Thursday, October 18, 2018

Money Tour: The Clerkship Year

via. I did not clerk in this courthouse.

A recommendation for people who enjoy the Refinery29 Money Diaries concept: Glamour Magazine's Youtube channel puts out some very interesting money-related content. Their first video, from April, about "How One Woman Spends her $95,000 Salary", made a bit of a splash and may have gone a little viral, but they seem to have flown more under the radar since then. As for how the "Money Tours" (and the similar "Honest Accounts") differ from Money Diaries? It's an (anonymized) video interview. The format is somewhat similar, starting with monthly numbers, including paychecks and recurring bills, but generally also adding more information about current savings. Their format is a bit more flexible. Instead of focusing on one week only, many people go through a set of (redacted) credit card statements for a month and explain the bigger or recurring charges. They sometimes also discuss a random-ish sample of some of the person's larger purchases from the past, things like furniture or sports equipment. I've been enjoying these videos a lot!

Separately, I've long wanted to go back and revisit how I approached spending during my clerkship year. As I've often mentioned, clerking requires a significant pay cut, at least if one was otherwise going to be working in biglaw. Measuring the opportunity cost of taking a clerkship would likely result in a shockingly large number, between lost income for that year, extra interest accrued on student loans due to being unable to refinance, and possibly a lost year-end bonus as well, due to the timing of leaving and returning to one's firm. I haven't yet calculated that number for myself, but may do so in a future post.

Yet, I'd go back and clerk all over again again. Heck, I'm even sometimes tempted to do a second one, but financial realities, and how much less practical and useful it likely is as a career move for an attorney further along in their career, mean that it will probably never happen. Clerking a first time was an incredible privilege that I'm grateful for, and it likely was necessary to place me in my current, absolutely wonderful job. Clerking a second time would likely be... irresponsible, all things considered, especially given that it likely wouldn't add much to my career prospects.

Recent events, including with Kozinski and some of the smaller news items surrounding the confirmation, have really forced me to think about the institution of clerkship hiring (diversity is, let's just say, not a strong point) and the role of clerkships. In order to fully analyze some of the other questions on my mind, it's important to get an accurate sense of the "cost of clerking", and whether it's a financial choice that is equally accessible to all who are qualified (it isn't). To the extent that it is a bit of an elitist institution, that has implications for diversity in the profession, as clerkships may be a necessary (though not sufficient) prerequisite for certain jobs.

Overall Numbers: The Clerkship Year
  • Savings at the Time: (My student loan balance was still over $180k throughout the year.)
    • Cash Savings: $15,000, an emergency fund accumulated during my first year in biglaw, I never touched this until my accident
    • 401(k): ~$11,500, accumulated during the approximately nine months that I was eligible  to contribute while in biglaw (with no employer match, as is standard for us). Term clerks also can't contribute to the federal government equivalent of a 401(k). 
    • Roth IRA: ~$2,200, and I put in another $2,000 during my clerkship year, but that was the only longer-term savings I could add to during that year. 
  • Total Salary: ~$83,500/year, as a JSP-12. Link is to a current-year PDF for the NYC metro area. They get a tiny cost of living increase most years, so the current number is a little higher.
  • Paycheck (BiWeekly): $2039.50. For the two "three paycheck" months a year, I usually put the third paycheck entirely into savings or student loans. 
  • My Share of Rent and Public Transit Cards: ~$2250/month total (numbers combined to protect my anonymity).
    • Commute: As I've sometimes alluded to, I had an extremely long and somewhat complicated commute, and monthly transit expenses (using both NYC transit and a commuter train) were a shockingly large percentage of my take-home pay.*
    • Rent: K and I stayed in the same apartment from when I was in biglaw. Given the location of our jobs and the start and end dates of our lease and for my clerkship and prior and subsequent jobs, moving out of NYC solely for the clerkship was never a realistic option. As I sheepishly mention somewhat often, we feel like we really splurge on rent, and that's worth it to us. So while I was clerking, that was also a shockingly large percentage of my take-home pay. 
  • Student Loans: ~$445/month minimum payments. I occasionally put in more, but not in amounts large enough to make much of a dent. 
    • The bulk of my loans, borrowed directly from the Federal Government, were on income-based repayment ("IBR") for a monthly minimum payment of ~$220 dollars/month.  
    • ~$225/month represented the actual 10-year repayment minimum payments associated with my other tiny (and lower-interest, 5% as opposed to ~7%) loans borrowed from my undergraduate school and a Perkins Loan from law school. These loans couldn't be put on IBR as easily. 
  • Utilities: ~$70/month on average. Water and heat are included in our rent, but we pay for electricity, including to run A/C in the summer. Numbers vary greatly throughout the year. 
  • Internet: ~$32/month.
  • Subscriptions: ~$25/month on average. I pay for Netflix for my mom, sister, and I. I also split Amazon Prime and Spotify Family expenses with my sister. 
* One thing I learned while clerking: People and their significant others end up needing to make eclectic, seemingly impossible, and unsustainable sacrifices in terms of commuting and where to live, in order to accommodate clerkship locations (which are highly inflexible). I spent more than 4 hours a day commuting in total and didn't even have the toughest commute out there. (People who drive, even if it's for significantly less time, definitely have it harder.) When one wants to clerk, you go where you're able to get one. Only the rare true superstars among us generally have the luxury of only applying in one city or one location and knowing they'll definitely find one on the schedule they want. 

That left me with ~$1252 to spend each month, and I'd reliably spend it all (including, sometimes, on a very small extra student loan payment). Technically I was living "paycheck to paycheck" during this time, and with no significant contributions of any kind to longer-term savings, it may have been less sustainable than many other "paycheck to paycheck" situations. It was such a short time in my career however, that... I wasn't really worried about the sustainability of my finances at the time. To be able to approach it that way is an incredible luxury and privilege, which I'm so grateful for. Oh, and because the student loan payments obviously weren't enough to keep up with the interest that was accruing (at a rate of ~$990/month), my total balance increased while I was clerking, undoing pretty much all of the repayment work I did while in biglaw the previous year.

Please follow the link below for a tour of some of my typical spending choices during a typical month of my clerkship year! I took all my credit card statements from a random month, April 2017, and got the numbers from there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Highly Recommended: Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover's Educated (affiliate link) is an extraordinary book. Immediately upon finishing it late one night last week, I was absolutely desperate to talk about it and the larger conversation surrounding it, including certain public responses from some of her family members. I was determined to convince as many of my friends as possible to read it so that they could discuss and dissect it with me and share in the emotionally harrowing experience of reading it.

Looking at the timeline, Westover must have started writing shortly (certainly within a year or so at most) after the last of some difficult and traumatizing events, only the latest in a long string of highly dysfunctional things that happened in her family. She has a talent for vivid, visceral writing, taking us back to what she felt as a child and then a young adult who'd spent her entire life believing certain things, only to discover, much later on and through great effort, that many of them were not true. She witnesses so many dangerous situations and injuries, both her own and suffered by several people in her family. There were so many times when I was scared that someone was going to die because of her parents' negligence and recurring refusal to involve medical professionals, though that never turned out to be the case. Quite frankly, that may be a near miracle, as her father had a habit of encouraging his children to do construction work or operate heavy machinery without training or observing safety requirements.

In part because of how little time appears to have elapsed since many of the events in the book, Westover's story sometimes feels like one that is very much "still in progress", one in which many of the people involved (Westover herself included) may still be in the process of trying to understand and deal with things. (This long-form essay is a fairly good take on this issue, I thought.) Reading Educated was a frustrating experience sometimes, both Westover and certain people in her family make decisions that seem so likely to turn out badly.

It's the first time I've ever been so desperate to talk about a book right away. It's also the first time that, though the text itself was not too dense for me to read as an ebook, I still wanted to eventually buy a hard copy, so that I could go back to it and potentially get more out of it that way. 

To me, this book contains multitudes. On the one hand, it is what it first appears to be marketed as, a story about growing up with a father who identified as a "Mormon survivalist". (Some skeptics on Goodreads and Amazon say, essentially, that her family wasn't fundamentalist Mormon enough or off-the-grid survivalist enough for them to believe her story, or to think it "special". I think that's generally a wrongheaded view.) Yet, as Tara herself takes pains to note, both in the book itself and in any interview where the topic comes up, any critiques in the book are not about the church. Neither the church, nor even her father's anti-government (she didn't have a birth certificate until she was nine), anti-medical establishment, and survivalist tendencies (and there was a lot of all of those things going on in ways that could and did cause harm to his children) fully account for all that happens. President Obama's brief but glowing recommendation of Educated captures something important and remarkable about all this, Westover writes with an almost impossible empathy and love for a complicated (to say the least) father and family, and their complicated world.

The primary theme, and how Westover characterizes the book in interviews, is that it is about how an education, broadly defined (and including aspects of an informal education that she credits her parents with), made her who she is and helped her ultimately break free of what was abusive and dysfunctional in her upbringing. It also allowed her to accomplish some truly extraordinary things: She had no formal schooling (nor any kind of regular homeschooling with any kind of  consistent schedule) until, at around age 17, she was able to score a 28 on the ACT and matriculate at Brigham Young University. (As she recalls, she initially didn't know how to go to school, what reading assignments in a syllabus meant, how to take exams, what the Holocaust was, and what the Civil Rights Movement was.) It was a long and hard-fought process, to eventually win a Gates Scholarship to Cambridge and earn a history PhD. 

Inevitably, Educated does, like any memoir about something both controversial and quite recent (and involving people who are very much alive, who use computers and the internet, and have their own fresh memories of the events depicted), implicate questions about memory and the sometimes different perceptions of past trauma by other people who were there to witness it, or who participated in it.* To that extent, I find it to be an extremely timely book.

Please follow the link below if you're interested in reading the rest of my many, many thoughts on this book.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Japan and Taiwan Trip 2018

Kinkakuji in Kyoto; You can't tell, but it was actually as crowded as a NYC subway platform during rush hour all around me in the designated photo-taking area where I was taking this!

We had a wonderful time on our recent trip to Taiwan and Japan! K and I took off for a little more than two weeks total, with an extra two days added thanks to Typhoon Trami. We were in Taipei to visit my family for around three days, Tokyo for about five days, and the Kyoto and Osaka area for what turned out to be closer to nine days with the storm delay. Before I get started, a quick confession: Because we had family to show us around and pick restaurants in Taipei and close friends in Tokyo to help do the same, I have less in the way of practical suggestions for those places! 

Taiwan is always lovely, I regularly push for people who haven't been before to consider taking at least a quick trip there, maybe as an add-on to a larger trip elsewhere in East or Southeast Asia. It's generally a fairly affordable destination by US tourist standards, the food is tasty, it's an extremely friendly place, and I'm told by others that it's fairly easy to navigate with English only, particularly in Taipei. I've gone so many times over the years, and I tend to do the same things over and over. A few things I recommend in Taipei:
  • Chia Te to buy pineapple cakes for gifts, as they're the best of the bakeries I've tried. It's normally not too busy at random times on weekday mornings. This year, though, the line was way too long. Apparently, because it was almost mid-Autumn festival, the store had been really busy at all hours for quite some time (this was even discussed in a segment on the local news!), even though I don't think they make traditional moon cakes. They sell Chia Te pineapple cakes at many 7-11s though. We felt a little silly when we saw them at the 7-11 near our hotel after we'd already bought something else for our friends in Tokyo. 
  • Din Tai Fung - it's so good! I always make a point to drop by when I'm in Taipei. The lines can be daunting, but I think it's worth it. (Their soup dumplings have very delicate skins and consistently perfect proportions. It's a solid step above the best I've had here in NYC.) I tend to stick to the branch near Yongkang street (a well-oiled machine, they're quite accurate with estimated wait times, which can reach a peak of 120 minutes, but usually it maxes out at 90), which means we can browse in the neighborhood (lots of souvenir shops and restaurants!) while we wait our turn. 
  • Night markets are a must-do, of course. K and I have been to Raohe and Shilin together, and we want to branch out more next time. When I was younger and visiting with family, we used to go to Shida, and that was also fun. 
  • Taking the Maokong Gondola to visit the teahouses in Maokong makes for a nice change of pace from the rest of the city. They do shut down the gondola quite often due to weather conditions, however! 

Japan was a completely new destination for K. I'd been once before, but that trip was so brief that I didn't see much. One thing we noticed about both Tokyo and Kyoto: touring both cities requires so. much. walking. This is despite extremely robust public transit systems. (In particular, the Tokyo subway system, with JR trains added, boggles the mind in its complexity when compared with any other I've ever used.) Keep in mind that we're NYC dwellers, so we were already accustomed to walking a lot, almost every day. It was a bit of a shock! Our feet were sore every evening, even towards the end of our trip, when you'd think that we'd have gotten used to it. Packing-wise, I hadn't expected that I'd need to wear sneakers every day in Japan.

Some travel tips that were essential to us:
  • The Japan-Guide website gives excellent overviews of basically every tourist site we could think of. There are a good handful of places that are only open on limited days, or require advance bookings, so doing a fair bit of research when mapping out a general itinerary is definitely recommended. 
  • Be sure to plan out whether to get a pocket wifi or local sim card beforehand, and some advance booking may be required. We used JapanWifiBuddy, but I didn't do enough research to know if there were better deals available. 
  • Definitely install the HyperDia app on your phone (may require a licensing fee after 30 days, but it's initially free to download and use) to map out train and public transit routes throughout Japan. Google Maps will not be enough for that purpose. 
  • I'm a little bit embarrassed that I didn't think to do this, but I'm told that people appreciate when tourists come prepared to use a few simple phrases in Japanese (things like "excuse me" or "please" and "thank you" of course, and even "I don't speak Japanese", "how much?", and so on), and that it's very helpful. It's the first place I've ever been where, with only English and my rudimentary putonghua Chinese, I felt extremely... clunky and awkward getting around sometimes, like there was a major language barrier. (Because my particular combination of language skills takes me so far as a tourist in a other countries I've been to, I'm terribly inexperienced with navigating any kind of true language barrier.) 
  • Don Quijote or "Donki", a large discount store that sells absolutely everything, is awesome! People recommend buying Japanese snacks (including special KitKat flavors) there to bring home as gifts. You'll also be able to do all your Japanese cosmetic and skincare shopping there. They also sell groceries, clothes, designer luggage and even some handbags (including some well-priced Longchamp totes in the Dotonbori branch in Osaka)... Literally everything! 
  • Definitely carry a coin purse. I'd accumulated nearly $15 USD in coins just in my first two or three days. 
  • We were also able to use credit cards in a lot of places, by the way, Japan isn't as cash-reliant a society as some travel guides imply. Some places were American Express only, no Visa.

One thing I hadn't realized about Tokyo hotels was that some rooms that technically sleep two (particularly at hotels that likely see many business travelers) are so small that we would actually have been happy to pay more for a slightly bigger room. (Think of a room where one could almost touch every wall while sitting or standing on the bed, or there wasn't enough open floor space anywhere to open up a medium sized suitcase fully, so that both sides of the bag could lay flat on the ground.) Never before had K and I ever been particularly fussed about space in hotel rooms, even in Hong Kong where rooms are quite small (but not this small!). Not a big deal in the end, but something we would take into account next time.

Food in Japan is generally excellent, regardless of price. Famously, even the convenience store food* is delicious and varied, and it is no sad thing to turn to 7-11, Lawson, or Family Mart for breakfast several days in a row. (See, for example, this video by Strictly Dumpling, one of my favorite travel and food Youtubers. The convenience stores in Taiwan are also great, but the ones in Japan really take the cake!) We had some absolutely delicious meals that were quite affordable (including conveyor belt sushi and yakitori) but also splurged on some fancy meals where one could see the quality of ingredients, the skill of the chefs, and how that justified the cost (including lunch at the ANA Intercontinental's teppanyaki restaurant). At the fancier restaurants, the prices can jump up dramatically for dinner, so trying to get a lunch reservation may be best.

*In terms of food and ingredient quality in Japan, I may still be thinking wistfully of the packaged hardboiled eggs from 7-11 I had for breakfast the morning we went to the airport. To get the same depth of flavor from eggs here in the US, I think I may have to go through some trial and error with buying the fanciest, most humanely-raised free-range organic eggs ever. 

We had so much fun in Japan that, immediately after our trip, I was already half-making plans for a next one, despite our limited opportunities and vacation time for taking longer trips (once a year, if we're lucky), and how there are so many other places in the world that we also still want to see. Things I may want to do next time include: Staying at a ryokan for a night, probably in Hakone; going to Kamakura and Nikko as part of a trip to Tokyo; and spending more time in Osaka. And that's just the things that occur to me immediately, without any extra research! It'll probably be at least a few years before we can concretely think about taking another trip to Japan, though.

Please follow the link below for more photos from Kyoto and Nara, and more detailed travel tips for the Kyoto area!

Friday, October 5, 2018

September 2018 Shopping Reflections

I had tons of fun on my recent trip to Taiwan and Japan! Although I'd been to Japan before, it was only for a few days, so it was great to have lots more time to explore this time around. I had also never previously been to Kyoto before. I'll write in more detail about the trip later on. We encountered some slight travel delays getting home because of Typhoon Trami, as Kansai International Airport was closed (mostly in an abundance of caution and to prevent travelers from getting stranded) on our scheduled departure date. But I'm back now, and the jet lag hasn't been too bad!

This month wasn't too exciting on the shopping front, with mostly secondhand purchases that I made before I left for my trip. K and I did end up needing to do some unexpected shopping while we were in Japan, though I consider clothing purchases made solely because of the needs or issues that arose during a trip to be part of my travel budget rather than my shopping budget, so I won't list them here. It was all boring/practical items anyway, mostly socks and underthings (which I don't typically document), and all from Uniqlo. It was the first time K had ever shopped there!

As for what I'm expecting from the next few months? I'm really hoping I won't be buying much in the way of clothing or shoes for the rest of this year, except for maybe one really great and luxurious, slightly slouchy or oversized sweater, as described in my most recent "shopping wishlist" post. For the past few months, my savings have been ticking up steadily, right on schedule to facilitate my plans for a certain elective procedure, and I think it's finally starting to hit me that, hey, the way that clothes fit and look on me could change dramatically very soon - maybe it's best not to shop for new clothes? (It's taken a surprisingly long while for that idea to fully settle in.) As for shoes, all my boots and booties are in excellent shape and ready for at least one more winter, probably more, so I'm not expecting any purchases in that area either.

I still am regularly tempted by jewelry, though. One brand that's new to me and that I discovered through a targeted Instagram ad is J. Hannah, a Los Angeles-based brand that makes a few rings that appeal to my current interest in "weighty" gold jewelry, especially their "Form" rings. Oh, and Farfetch is currently stocking a wider range of Alighieri necklaces than usual. (From all my browsing for Alighieri jewelry in recent months, Farfetch generally seem to offer the best combination of price, shipping cost, and Ebates or other cash-back rates). Their selection includes several designs I've been interested in since I first learned about the brand, including the wax seal-looking "Deceptive North Star" and "L'Infinito", and the wonderfully organic and irregular "The Odyssey" pendant on a longer chain (some listings for that one have it on a short chain that I don't think suits it as well). The prices on all the jewelry items I've been admiring should keep them safely in the "window shopping only" and "admire, but not buy" categories though, at least in the near future.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $198.08) 
  • J.Crew Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer, heather gray - $88.80 - Whatever else one might think about J.Crew's quality issues and questionable business strategy decisions in recent years, they make some awesome sweater blazers. Both the "Sophie" open sweater blazer design and this newer collarless design were ones that I ordered just to try, but that I was sure I wouldn't keep because I already had plenty of other sweaters that filled the same general niche, but in the end I couldn't resist either. I took outfit photographs with this Juliette sweater blazer here and here
  • J.Crew Presentation Dress, black - $32.33* - The rest of my purchases this month were both on the secondhand market. I bought the blue version of this J.Crew Presentation Dress early last year from eBay (after previously rejecting this item when it was originally in stores and on sale around 2016), and it quickly became one of my favorite work dresses. The blue Presentation dress is always one of the first things I reach for after each laundry day. I'd been looking for the black one on eBay for a few months, but never saw it in the right size and at the right price. Finally, I saw this one while browsing ThredUp unsuccessfully for some summer clothing for my Japan trip. This one is a size 8, while the blue is a size 6. Both look about the same on me, at least around the chest and shoulders, though there's more room in the skirt on the size 8. This dress is one of those items that, on paper, shouldn't work that well. It's not a particularly flattering shape on me (it's not unflattering either, just sort of neutral), and the cap-sleeve is a bit restrictive, I can't raise my arms fully. Even so, it's still become something that I greatly enjoy wearing to work. 
  • Tory Burch Tie-Front Square Print Dress - $76.95* - This was also a product of my unsuccessfully browsing the secondhand market for clothing for my Japan trip. I got this from TheRealReal, which doesn't currently have any more of this specific dress in stock, though they always have plenty of other Tory Burch clothing in various sizes. This was a bit of an impulsive buy for me. Any TheRealReal purchase is always risky because their shipping and return shipping charges are quite expensive. I thought the print was pretty, and I was reasonably confident that it would fit me and look good. It's made out of a slightly stretchy cotton poplin, a blend of 97% cotton and 3% spandex/elastane. It's also labeled a "dry clean" item, which confuses me a bit, as I think that fabric composition should be fine if machine-washed in cold water and line-dried. I've only worn it once so far and liked it, but am a bit nervous about future wears and laundering it after because I don't know whether to comply with the care instructions label. 
*Indicates that shipping charges were included in the price.

How was your shopping month, and how's the rest of your shopping year looking? Should I take a chance on machine-washing that Tory Burch dress? I get nervous about not following the care instructions with items that were a bit expensive for me (even if I ultimately got a good deal on the item). I also don't have much experience with machine-washing stretchy cotton-spandex blends! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Casual Outfits with J.Crew Sweater Blazers

Sweater (Left): J.Crew Sophie Open-Front Sweater Blazer, heather khaki, size XS
Sweater (Right): J.Crew Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer, heather gray, size XS
Shirt: Old Navy Relaxed Lightweight Cap-Sleeve Shirt, blue/white stripe, size M
Shoes: M.Gemi Felize, gold shimmer (sold out, similar in non-shimmer suede)

Note: I am currently on vacation, but wrote and scheduled this post before I flew out. I'll be back by early October! This is just a super-quick outfit post of something I can't generally wear outdoors in NYC for some time yet. Back when I was thinking about whether to keep the J.Crew collarless sweater blazer, I also wanted to try it on with pants, and ended up throwing together this look really quickly to accomplish that. Then I also thought it'd be fun to show the other sweater blazer in a casual outfit.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

Because my interest in the collarless sweater blazer was based so much on the look I thought it might have with workwear dresses and skirts, I don't think I like it quite as much with pants, or with casual outfits. It just isn't the look I had in mind.

I really like the collared sweater blazer with casual outfits and pants though! I think the collar and lapels may give it a slightly more interesting look with many casual outfits than the collarless version. I've often worn the J.Crew Factory version of the collared open sweater blazer (which has a fairly different look and sizing than the J.Crew version, as seen in my photos here) in casual outfits with jeans, so I'm sure I'll wear the J.Crew one out that way too, once the weather cools down a bit more. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Link List: A Few Quick Things

via Sarah Andersen comics - I love her work and think it's hilarious, I relate to this and also to many of her comics

Note: I am currently on vacation, but wrote and scheduled this post before I flew out. I'll be back by early October! Today's post is about a few things I was looking at online right before I left for my trip. As usual, given my writing style, it was really difficult to be quick and concise so that I could actually get this post completed and scheduled before I left.

1. // In the midst of a renewed discussion about the Eileen Fisher-ish "menocore" aesthetic, one r/femalefashionadvice commenter, u/PalmSignet, made some interesting points about the increasingly casual and relaxed standards of professional dress in many industries these days.

I can't relate to every single thing, but she makes some good points that ring true to me. My overall experience with workplace dress codes is ultimately quite different, but some of the key details still feel real. (I've never been in an employment situation where I felt the dress code expectations were unfair. While I wouldn't be terribly pleased about a "business formal every day" rule, it wouldn't exactly be an unreasonable thing for many attorney workplaces to demand.) Anyway, I won't be able to articulate my full thoughts on that discussion any time soon, but I wanted to share that specific discussion because it was novel and interesting. Oh, and this other discussion about (mostly workplace) dress and what it might signal was also interesting, though it didn't get much traction. 

2. // There've been a few interesting discussions about "influencer" (mainly Youtuber) campaigns and compensation recently. I'm not at all familiar with the world of makeup Youtube anymore, I last followed it back when Michelle Phan was in her heyday (and that was ages ago) but it seems to be a wild and highly compensated world for the top players. The r/blogsnark discussion about this topic wasn't too active, but someone took a screenshot of a comment from someone in the industry that noted that some Youtubers solicit companies to pay them to do "dedicated negative review[s] of a competitor's product" (and for that particular anonymous Youtuber, this option cost significantly more than a "dedicated product review" of the company's own product). Now that is wild, and is probably enough to make some makeup and beauty reviews on Youtube sound potentially suspect.

Somewhat relatedly, a r/blogsnark user mentioned the parameters of that Olay Whips campaign that's been around on Instagram lately. Among other things, I feel like these campaigns can look inauthentic because they go live at the same time, and because many of the people promoting the item typically use higher-end stuff. (Not that skincare products need to be high-end to be effective. My own routine is mostly prescriptions and drugstore products!) Of course, there are probably data-supported reasons why Olay set those campaign parameters.

3. // Both Leigh and Bitches Get Riches recently wrote about the important topic of splitting and sharing finances as a couple. Given my stage in life, it's a topic about which I currently have surprisingly little to say. K and I are remarkably aligned in our values when it comes to money and related topics, so we haven't felt much of a need yet to discuss most of the gritty details. We're also both very flexible about things like how accounts should be arranged. Many people might find this lack of having hashed out the practical details to be a bit odd (maybe even irresponsible), but well, it works for us.

And that's it for this slightly abbreviated link list post! Any thoughts about those workwear discussions I linked? I guess I'm generally not a fan of the "dress for the job you want" idea if it requires things like pantyhose or blazers when I'm not in court. Also, I only wear heels when I feel like I have absolutely no choice, with great reluctance.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Money News Lately: Grab Bag

Coach Foldover Card Case Wallet (affiliate link)

In a little less than a week, I'll be off on my travels! K and I will make a quick stop in Taiwan to see my family, and then we'll be off to Tokyo and Kyoto. Things will probably be quiet around here until I get back. I might be able to get another post or two written and scheduled to go live during my trip, but that will depend on how some things go at the office in the next few days. I'll be fully back to writing here and reading and commenting elsewhere in a few weeks, once I get back from my trip and have gotten over the jetlag! 

For today, here are a few quick thoughts about some money-related news items (and well, yet another unpopular Refinery29 Money Diary) that I've found interesting lately: 

On Fleeting and Ill-Gotten Gains

Congressman Duncan Hunter from San Diego is a personal finance cautionary tale for us all (as well as a "don't commit federal crimes" cautionary tale, but that's a given). The indictment is a doozy, let's just say. I personally think its worth skimming through just for all the very many alleged instances of money mismanagement and misuse it contains, detailed down to specific transactions. Among other details, the Hunters allegedly incurred approximately $37,700 in overdraft and insufficient funds fees on their personal bank accounts over seven years. All this despite his annual congressional salary of approximately $174,000, and allegedly siphoning off $250,000 in campaign funds over the years on top of that! 

In other news that's, at least in part, also about, er, how quickly even a large quantity of ill-gotten gains can potentially be spent, there's also that saga of the $400,000 GoFundMe. The story, and the related civil litigation (and possible criminal investigation), are all still developing, but there's an allegation that the couple that raised the money depleted it all without actually giving it to the person they raised it for. It sounds like GoFundMe has committed to giving the intended recipient the money that was raised for him, but there could be potential criminal proceedings against the couple regardless

The Case of Another Unpopular Money Diary

I know it's terribly silly of me to regularly think too hard about comments and reactions to Refinery29 Money Diaries, but sometimes, I just can't help myself! With this particular diarist, or rather, the reader reactions, I may yet spin off my thoughts into another post at a later date, but I thought the story was also worth sharing now.

The initial Money Diary, by a purported 24 year-old NYC-dwelling software engineer with $118,000 base salary, and additional bonus and stock worth approximately $168,000, was... unpopular. I did find a few details odd (including that a Duane Reade purchase of batteries, decongestant, and a box of tissues would cost significantly more than $5.50). Except that I feel like most Money Diaries probably fudge some numbers, both intentionally to protect anonymity and accidentally because of mistakes with record-keeping or math. I don't think that kind of slight adjustment or error prevents a Money Diary from being substantially true and interesting. Furthermore, I generally find a lot of the reflexive skepticism and criticism about high-earner Money Diaries to ultimately be ill-founded, so I'm generally not inclined to nitpicking individual details as if that might call the whole thing into question. People hated that Brooklyn-dwelling biglaw attorney's Money Diary, for instance, and some even declared she must be defrauding her firm with some of the reimbursed expenses. Trust me, because of the generous reimbursements associated with summer associate programs and business development (charged to the firm, not the client), those charge were likely all proper.

I thought the software engineer diarist's follow-up with Refinery29 about her approach to investing should have calmed some of the criticisms. I thought she came across as being practical and hard-working. Alas, if you go through the comments there, not everyone agreed. I know it's particularly foolish of me to think too much about the especially mean comments, particularly ones I can identify as baseless or incorrect, but I really am interested in the psychology and mindset behind them, as well as in whether those comments suggest that there's a need for better personal finance education for everyone. 

There are some real awful things in the comments, some of them buried deep in the discussion threads and responses to other reader comments: 
  • One reader accuses her of having an "I'm only here for the cash y'all" attitude towards her career, and maybe her life in general. (There's some terrible and horrifyingly sexist aspersions about the diarist's personal life in that particular gem of a comment, if you find it.) Um, isn't compensation, and seeking fair market compensation for our work, something we should all value? 
  • Various readers turned up their noses at the idea that someone who was average in school could get themselves to that compensation level by their mid-20s, which just seems really wrong-headed to me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like anyone who's been in the working world for a while, whether they were excellent students or not, quickly realizes that grades have almost nothing to do with career success and compensation after one has gotten their foot in the door? 
  • The diarist noted that, given her many successes in the years since school and a challenging search for a first job, "[n]ow it's easy to think I was always a superstar". Many readers gnashed their teeth about this. Some readers were skeptical that any real person would say that about themselves. I found that entire set of reactions particularly bizarre. (I tend to be a bit self-deprecating, but I'm also not afraid to own up to my successes when it's warranted...) 
I totally shouldn't get so absorbed into Money Diaries comments sections, but I really do have a strange and intense fascination with it. How do people get so opinionated, sometimes based on incorrect assumptions? (There are many other times when commenters on other Refinery29 money-related discussions are actually extremely sensible, it is mostly just the Money Diaries where the comments sections get really wild.)

Have you been following the Duncan Hunter or the depleted $400,000 GoFundMe stories? What did you think? Particularly if you're familiar with the STEM industry in the US, do the numbers in that Money Diary seem plausible to you? 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: J.Crew Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer

Sweater: J.Crew Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer, heather gray, XS
Dress: old, from Loft (similar from Loft or Ann Taylor)
Shoes: Sam Edelman Tristan, black leather

Today's post is about a quick try-on of a new J.Crew item, the Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer, which I was drawn to as soon as it popped up among J.Crew's "new arrivals". A few bloggers I follow have also mentioned their interest, though I don't think I've seen any blog posts featuring it in an outfit yet. (I've seen one post on Instagram, though!) Like with the collared J.Crew sweater blazer, now called the "Sophie", which I tried on and bought earlier this summer, it may well be another month before NYC weather cools down enough for me to wear it out of the house. I'm still thinking about whether to keep this, after trying on the size XS in heather gray, above, and the size S in burgundy, below. I haven't photographed the gray to its best advantage, as it got creased in transit. It also may be a bit difficult to see the differences between the two sizes in my photos, but of the two, I'd "size down" and keep the XS in gray. (I also sized down to XS in the "Sophie" sweater blazer.) 

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My interest in this item may be a bit idiosyncratic. It was ignited by my fondness for a very specific kind of business formal(ish) look, one involving a long "topper" jacket (something like this from Calvin Klein or this from St. Johnover a workwear dress. It's not conservative or formal enough for job interviews or a jury, but it's a look I've seen some stylish women pull off for other somewhat formal professional occasions in NYC (usually in a less matchy-matchy way than in many photos of similar outfits).

Opting for an "almost-jacket" or "pretend jacket" that's actually a sweater, and is therefore less structured and doesn't hold its shape as well may not actually be the best choice for someone who was interested in the look of an actual jacket. This is a notion I keep revisiting with all these sweater blazers, that I'll never be able to fully replicate the look of a jacket with them, but that I might not really care and still always opt for the sweater blazer over a real jacket nonetheless, because well, I kind of hate jackets. (They rarely fit completely right or comfortably over my chest and shoulders!)

Dress: old, from Loft (similar from Loft or Ann Taylor)
Shoes: Sam Edelman Tristan, black leather

For reference, I'm 5'3'' with shorter "petite" legs and more "regular"-sized torso for my height. My measurements are approximately 37''-27''-37''. To the extent that size XS has even a chance of being a better fit for me than size S, this item definitely runs large. It's hard to tell from the photos, but the sleeve length is  better on the XS, cutting off right at the wrist, rather than hanging over it a bit. The S could overwhelm my frame and be too loose in the arms when viewed from some angles. Naturally, the sleeves and body are both a bit slimmer on the XS, and as you can see from the photos of the XS in gray, it still has an intentionally oversized look. With the model photos (they took one for each color, which you can see when browsing their "sweaters" section, but not on the Juliette's actual product page), I think they're generally wearing the item in their "typical J.Crew size", i.e. one that's maybe a little too oversized for them, rather than sizing down as I'll do if I end up keeping this.

Oh, and I think this comes across in my photos, but the burgundy colorway is a noticeably darker and richer red than in J.Crew's official photos, particularly the one of the burgundy sweater blazer laying flat by itself (as seen on the Juliette's product page), where it looks like more of a medium-red. It's a significant color discrepancy, and I personally prefer how it looks in real life. I'm definitely not keeping the burgundy one I ordered, as it's the wrong size for me, but I like how the color looks on me... Ack, I don't know why I'm such a sucker for all these sweater blazers, I'm definitely long past the point where I have any need for more! 

Both the collarless Juliette and the collared Sophie sweater blazers are made of a 35% cotton, 35% polyester, 30% merino wool blend. The label says "dry-clean only" for both. From my past misadventures with laundering J.Crew merino wool cardigans (they often shrink after machine-washing in cold water, even though I never put them in the dryer and laid them out flat on a drying rack instead) I wouldn't dare machine-wash any of these J.Crew sweater blazers. The risk of damage is too great. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

One Step Forward, One Step Back for Entry-Level Workwear

At this point, three years into my private sector-leaning legal career, I've largely grown out of the "graduate student and new graduate" price point for workwear. I still wear mostly items I bought at that price point, including those old Loft dresses I purchased as a summer associate, even though their silhouettes aren't what I would pick out now if I were in the market (they read a little dated, I think, and maybe a little too youthful if one is hyper-picky, which I sometimes am), I'd prefer more fitted sheath dresses instead. I'm also still in those wool-blend suits from J.Crew Factory, which is pretty much as "new graduate" as women's suiting gets, particularly if you insist on a wool blend (which I now do). Any future suit acquisitions will likely involve jumping up to at least the Talbots, but more likely the Brooks Brothers price point. (I do hope I can put it off as long as humanly possibly though, because dang, wool suiting can get real pricey, as it should.)

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Nonetheless, though its not fully compatible with my larger goal of more ethical, conscious, and minimalist shopping, I don't know if I'll ever completely stop being inclined to thinking about those mid-range mall brands that are suitable for students and new graduates just starting out and building their work wardrobes for more formal white-collar workplaces. Those brands were such an important part of my getting started with my career that I'll always appreciate their ability to fit that role in a relatively affordable way, and quickly and easily. Accordingly, I still feel some distress when they change directions or re-brand, which could leave other young women now situated where I was a few years ago without easy places to find what they need, and without the same range of affordable-ish options I had when I desperately needed to build a full-size work wardrobe quickly, and on a budget. So I still browse J.Crew Factory, Ann Taylor, Loft, and the like, and take note of whether their offerings for that particular market seem to have improved or deteriorated from season to season, year to year. Currently, things seem to have taken one step forward, one step back.

Before jumping in to the substance of this post, a few additional points about other ways to build a starter work wardrobe that are arguably "better", from both a frugality and ethical shopping standpoint, than shopping new from J.Crew Factory (where prices before things hit clearance stay about the same no matter what promotion they're running, give or take ~$5/item) or Loft and Ann Taylor (where 40% off regular price and additional 40% off sale discounts are both frequent), but that take more time or effort, and a bit of luck: The right thrift or consignment store can be an excellent place to buy workwear, I used to find many suitable pieces at Buffalo Exchange. There are also many online secondhand options, such as ThredUp (generally well-stocked with J.Crew and Ann Taylor in a wide range of styles and sizes), Poshmark, eBay, and if you wanted to get more adventurous, TheRealReal for things like, say, Tory Burch at Ann Taylor-ish prices (there's a bit of "buyer beware" at work there, however, it's only good for trying out items one is quite sure of, as they have expensive shipping and also charge for return shipping, people sometimes report quality control issues, and their product measurements are not reliable). If frugality is the primary concern, one can also find some good items at Uniqlo (i.e. ponte dresses, though a similar one last year didn't fit me) or Old Navy (simple ponte dresses may be the most likely choices). 

For the step forward, Ann Taylor and Loft may be going back to their "roots" by offering a wider range of more structured work-appropriate dresses of the kind I rely on. I'd previously noted that, for most of 2017 and maybe starting a bit earlier than that, both brands were doing trendier collections with less of what I'd consider work-appropriate for myself. This was particularly noticeable at Loft, which had taken a much more casual turn, offering many overly stretchy, thin jersey dresses or unstructured, flowy polyester or rayon dresses, many with smocked or stretchy waists, neither category of which I generally like (they rarely fit me right), much less for work. Most dresses of either type, even if they're covered up enough and in staid enough colors or prints for the office, read just slightly too casual for business casual law firms in NYC to me, I'd feel too much like a paralegal freshly out of undergrad! Ann Taylor was a bit better, and generally still had at least one or two of those more structured sheath or shift dresses I like, but nowhere near as many as before. 

This category of dresses is a genre that, honestly, I find pretty boring. I probably wouldn't dress like this for anything except a workplace that demanded it, I'd prefer to dress in more casual and comfortable stuff if I had complete freedom. (East coast business casual law firms: We get to push the envelope a bit in terms of trendier takes on workwear, but the foundations of what works best day-to-day don't change much!) It's sometimes hard to figure out, until I have worn a dress for a while, why I gravitate to some in my closet over others. Fit is key, of course (Ann Taylor and Loft have always fit me best off the rack of any brands I've tried). Being machine-washable is also helpful to keeping something in frequent rotation. Outside of that, though, some of my favorites have little in common. My current favorites are that Ann Taylor boatneck sheath from last year and an older J.Crew shift dress I bought used, two dramatically different silhouettes with arguably different levels of relative formality or "classic"-ness. 

The dresses currently at Ann Taylor that I think look best are this ruched sheath dress in navy, this black square-neck sheath (I like a good square-neck and find it flattering on me!), and this bright orange split-neck sheath dress. Loft's current selection is a bit smaller, but I like this wrap skirt dress in black or pale gray-blue and this checked jacquard dress. I also put the ones I mentioned, as well as some additional choices from the two stores, into the widget below.

Please follow the link below for the discussion of the "step backward", a change to J.Crew Factory's line of women's suiting.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Link List: Social Media Things

Pictured above is our order at Grace Street, a coffee shop and dessert spot in K-town with plenty of seating, but no wifi. We often go after dinner, as it's open quite late. They turn into a sit-down place in the evening, with a $5/person order minimum, but that isn't too bad. K got an "ube latte" (no caffeine), I got a jasmine matcha latte (oops! as that has plenty of caffeine and made it hard to fall asleep), and we split a "churro waffle". And ack, as usual, I'm a bit embarrassed by my lack of photography skills!

Today's link list is mostly light and fun. We're a bit preoccupied with planning our trip, which we are doing at the last possible minute. Our departure is imminent, in about two weeks, and we've only just booked our hotels. I totally do not recommend being this delinquent with travel planning, as it stresses me out a bit, but our work schedules, particularly his, have been difficult this year.

1. // I enjoyed this discussion on r/blogsnark, about whether people had any offline friends or acquaintances who are big bloggers or other people who've "made it" on social media. This may be a function of my age (on the cusp of 30) and my social circle leaning heavily towards more traditional professions (lawyers, in particular, are generally social media-averse), but I don't have any offline friends who use social media with an eye towards more public consumption. Of people I know well, the one with the biggest "audience" by far is for their cat (~5,000+ Instagram followers). Outside of that, a family friend's child (around my age, but whom I don't really know personally) is an athlete with ~150,000+ Instagram followers, and that's about it. Between that discussion and and others, including Buzzfeed's March 2018 article about what it costs to be "big on Instagram" and a similar New York Daily piece, I am very belatedly appreciating the power of Instagram as a platform, and also how much effort and work it takes to consistently stage and post attractive photos. 

On a semi-related tangent, I don't think I've ever felt bad because of Instagram or because of comparing myself or my photos to other people's far more well-edited photos and thus, more attractive photos. If we had Instagram in college (also see this 2015 ESPN long-form), I would definitely have felt bad sometimes because of it. Back then, the platform du jour was Facebook, so it was people's far less curated and more awkward photo albums from college parties and other outings that sometimes made me jealous and insecure. (Everyone is having fun without me! Why don't people like to do fun things with me or want to be my friend? etc. etc.) I'm relieved that those teenage insecurities have faded by now, all of a sudden in my mid-20s, because by golly, it was awful. 


2. // I finally watched HBO's Big Little Lies last week, and it's so good! I binge-watched it in an incredibly short amount of time. The lead actresses are all great. It isn't really the kind of show one gets fashion inspiration from, as the focus is on the emotional complexity of the characters and the story gets quite dark, but I did love the above outfit on Laura Dern's character. 

Another show I've enjoyed, though it's less objectively good, is Hulu's Castle Rock, or rather, mostly just episode 7 (spoiler warning, though I went in only after reading detailed recaps, and the impact of the episode was not diminished), where Sissy Spacek gave an absolutely incredible performance. I think it may be the single best hour of television I've ever seen, standing out more because the rest of the show is, admittedly, rather "blah". (It's one of those horror/sci-fi shows that tries too hard to be cryptic and mysterious, and very little had happened in the six episodes up to that point, except a lot of highly creepy, but unexplained, incidents.) 

3. // Things I've been reading at other blogs: My friend at Garb Guide recently wrote about her year of "no shopping", inspired by that Ann Patchett New York Times piece I also commented on a while back. Talia wrote a great, very personal post about her music.  Ms. Ziyou has posted some really good food for thought and hosted some interesting discussions, including this one about "freedom", broadly defined, which I contributed to. I was being a bit intense, but well, better credentialed lawyers than I (and I'm no slouch) believe us to be well into the "previously unthinkable violations of due process and rights are now all possible" territory, as do I.  

And, er, abruptly going back to lighter things, I thought it'd be good to recommend other blogs that frequently and regularly post "link lists" I particularly enjoy. Kathy at Feather Factor does great and tightly curated ones, and she always directs me to something unexpected and interesting to read. Elle Blogs does comprehensive and broad ones that hit just about everything I noticed and was interested in throughout the week, and then some, from a wide range of sources. Grumpy Rumblings (of the Formerly Untenured) also does a good broad weekly link list, one that's focused a bit more on domestic news and politics, and also on taking action. 

4. // Now for a bit of "shopping life lately". Many people have posted about their interest in J.Crew's new Juliette collarless sweater blazer, an updated take on that ultra-popular sweater blazer I bought  a few months back (worn here), which they're also continuing to sell. I confess, though I now have plenty of sweater-jackets and other cardigans for cooler seasons, I'm also very tempted by this one.

To me, this new collarless sweater blazer has the look of one of those longer jackets or toppers that can be worn over workwear dresses as part of a slightly less conventional and less traditional take on (almost) business formal. Something like this or this from Calvin Klein (which I think is the only brand more in my price range that regularly makes them), and well, St. John makes a lot of ultra high-end ones. I've seen some really chic professional women wear that look, which is why I'm tempted by the new J.Crew offering. Though, given my familiarity with this material from when I shopped for the other sweater blazer, the Juliette sweater blazer might not actually have the same structured look or hold its shape as well as an actual jacket. 

Do you personally know anyone who as "made it" on social media? Does it seem to require a lot of work or effort on their part to keep it up? I may not have a good eye for photos, and I clearly have absolutely no patience for taking or editing nice ones. So I do appreciate that, when it comes to the more "visual" platforms, it takes a lot of work to make things look good!

Did anyone else have that experience of previously (as a young teen and up to my early 20s, at least) feeling deeply insecure and vulnerable about not being liked, or worrying that one's friends liked other people better and would move on, until, all of a sudden, just... growing out of it completely, seemingly overnight? To the point where it's hard to understand why the emotions used to be so intense? I've always found that experience disorienting (I really was an extremely sensitive teen, so the abrupt change was odd), but I'm so glad to have grown out of it. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Thinking About: Weighty Gold Jewelry

It's no secret that I've had a jewelry phase recently. By now, because of my sudden and intense obsession with Alighieri, which resulted in purchasing two pieces in two months, I've spent enough that it's unlikely I'll be buying anything else in that price range (or upwards of it, but that was always a given) for quite a while, unless I cut clothing expenditures significantly in coming months. Still, jewelry has long been a category I window shop and plan for, sometimes for years, without actually buying anything (mainly with that opal ring I've been thinking about since 2015), so I might as well keep up that tradition. At the very least, it doesn't hurt to look and admire, but not buy!

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Lately, I've developed an interest in what I call (for lack of better or more accurate phrasing) "weighty" gold jewelry, items that, while fairly simple in design (though with a bit of interesting or unusual detail), have a bit more substance or texture to them, a bit more weight or boldness than a lot of the smaller, super-dainty pieces that have been popular (i.e. most of Catbird's catalog), though they don't quite rise to the level of being "statement" pieces or particularly "big", at least when compared to some of the louder jewelry I've been interested in and worn in the past. This new interest of mine is mostly in earrings, bangles, and rings rather than necklaces, though I suppose the J.Crew Chain Tassel Necklace from two months back could also count.

This isn't a category I've ever really shopped for, so I don't know the market well. I would need to do lots more research to know what I actually wanted to get, and for how much. So the things I've been looking at while window shopping are completely random, from a range of wildly different price points, and may not be from the best or best value places to shop for anything in this genre.

I've never had an interest in hoop earrings before, for instance. I generally wear the same pearl studs every day, including to sleep, and only rarely switch to a pair of small dangle earrings (from Porcelain and Stone) on special occasions. In the distant past, on occasions when I wore anything bigger, I always worried that the earrings would get tangled in my hair or on my scarves, and I found them fussy. (With bigger earrings, or ones that dangle down too low, I start getting paranoid and worrying about outlandish and unlikely accidents, the earrings getting caught on something and causing injury.) Still, I've now become very taken by the idea of small, but not exactly dainty, hoops. The closest thing I've seen are the Mejuri Bold Hoops, or their Dome Hoops. In fact, I'm quite taken by the entire Mejuri Dome collection, which also includes a bangle and rings (all pictured above, with some of the other pieces named in this post).

As for bracelets, I have this simple gold bangle from Coach, a Christmas gift from K's mom, and I adore it, it seems to go with everything. (There's nothing similar in stores now from Coach, the most similar thing I've seen is one of Kate Spade's simpler bangles.) I'm also quite fond of the idea of bangles with similar heft and thickness, but an edgier design, something like Meghan Markle's Shaun Leane Tusk Bracelet (which she wore here, but with diamonds, and it's definitely not at a price range that's amenable to being impulsively purchased!), or the Mejuri Dome Bangle. Rings are probably the category I have the fewest opinions about, because I never wear any (and again, I've been balking on one particular purchase in that category for years now), and so I'll probably also never actually get one. I do like the look of signet-style rings though, particularly the Alighieri False Promises Ring. (Their Wreckless Pursuit Ring is also cool!)

The widget below contains some other random, mostly costume jewelry (except for one pair of thicker gold hoops, which are fine jewelry from Saks Off Fifth) choices that also sort of fit the general look I'm thinking of. It was actually surprisingly difficult to find items that had the right look, particularly with a costume jewelry budget constraint in mind. Anyway, I don't know the jewelry market well at all, so I'd need to do considerably more research before I actually thought about buying anything, and these are not things I'm currently actively shopping for. 

Where do you shop for jewelry? What are your favorite styles of earrings or bracelets? Do you prefer silver or gold-tone metals? I personally think the look I have in mind here lends itself a bit more to gold jewelry, though I'm probably biased because I generally have a strong preference for gold-tone metals over silver or white metals on me. I guess it might be because my skin has warmer undertones!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

August 2018 Shopping Reflections

Oh dear, this ended up being an unexpectedly shopping-heavy month. And to add insult to injury, some of my choices won't be terribly popular, and were at least partially the result of poor planning, which isn't great. Let's break it down.

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This month started out well enough. I'd mentioned how obsessed I was with Alighieri jewelry, enough to buy another piece shortly after my first, last month's Jaja necklace. It was an extravagance, and also an unusual choice for me, as I've previously balked at buying another significant piece of jewelry for years. Regardless, I was supporting an independent artist, and her work is unique and beautiful. So long as the purchase fit comfortably in my budget, no big deal! Then, something I wanted months ago, a particular color of that Nordstrom cashmere and silk wrap I liked so much, was finally on sale, so I snapped that up. Both of these things were a natural corollary to something that was already a well-loved favorite, so that all seemed fine. 

Then I indulged in a few impulsive buys, but it wasn't that many, and in categories I don't really impulsively buy from anymore, namely skincare and jewelry. (Well, jewelry has possibly become a slightly impulsive area now, so I should be a bit more cautious going forward.) I'd gone to the new Muji near Bryant Park to look for more of those acrylic storage drawers I use for skincare and makeup (pictured). Despite the units being 50% off, when I saw that they discontinued the velour inserts for jewelry they used to make, which I was also after, I quite frugally declined to buy anything. But then I saw the Deciem store next door, and you can guess what happened. Oh, and on the last day of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, I ordered a pair of those cubic zirconia studs recommended by Feather Factor

The more awkward things to explain, given my longtime goal of more minimalist, ethical, and conscious shopping, is the rest of it. It was only in mid-August that K and I confirmed the actual dates for our trip to Japan. And then I learned that the weather in Tokyo and Kyoto when we're there can be expected to be at least as warm and humid as it has been here in NYC recently, i.e. summer clothing weather. And I don't actually own enough casual summer clothes to last the entire two weeks of our trip, if I only take items that still fit me and that I like or feel comfortable wearing. (On our previous long trips, to places in East and Southeast Asia in summer weather, we've always stayed with family in the middle of each trip, and were able to do laundry, so I only ever needed a week's worth of summer clothing before.) 

I don't like summer clothes as much as fall/winter ones, and only really get to wear casual clothes on weekends. Thus, I've been perfectly happy spending my summer weekends wearing the same two or three dresses over and over, and I'd never felt there was a gap in my closet until now. With little more than four weeks before our departure, there wasn't enough time to try out one of those linen shops on Etsy like NotPerfectLinen or a made to order brand like Elizabeth Suzann. I looked through Ebay, Thredup, and Poshmark for casual dresses that would suit (mostly secondhand J.Crew or Madewell) and didn't see anything I wanted for the right price, and so... I ended up at Old Navy. Funnily enough, Luxe just wrote about this exact scenario, about almost impulsively buying something from Old Navy for a trip, except in her case she decided not to. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $401.30)
  • Alighieri La Fortuna Necklace - $264.00 - This particular Alighieri item isn't currently available from any US-based retailer, or from any of the foreign retailers best known for quick shipping to the US (i.e. Farfetch or Ssense). I bought mine online from Mille, a boutique in Minneapolis, but I seem to have gotten their last one. This is my second Alighieri purchase, and I still have nothing but good things to say, both pieces are absolutely beautiful. With this purchase, I've exhausted my jewelry budget, unless I dramatically cut clothing expenditures to compensate. 
  • Nordstrom Silk and Cashmere Wrap, pink silver - $59.40 - (sold out, other colors) Because I loved my first one so much, I've been keeping a close eye on this, to track when they put it on sale (rarely, at seemingly random times, a color or two at a time). In May, they put a nice pale pink on sale, but I saw that I preferred this cooler-toned "pink silver" shade instead. Fast forward to now, as soon as they put "pink silver" on sale, I grabbed it right away. These silk and cashmere wraps are lovely and floaty, but also extremely thin and prone to snags. Because I don't like feeling overheated, and have a down coat with a knit collar that zips up to the chin for truly cold days, these light scarves are plenty warm enough for me for most of winter, though I don't think most other people would feel the same. 
  • Nordstrom Cubic Zirconia Earrings, 2 ct tw - $29.90 - Not too much to say here, except that these are sparkly, and also modestly priced during the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I normally wear a pair of pearl studs from Amazon (many options, including with sterling silver or 14k gold posts) day in and day out. It's been years since I've done anything else with my earrings for everyday wear, so I was tempted to get something to mix things up with. (I recall that Jess and Lea also have these, and we generally all seem pleased with them.) 
  • Old Navy Sleeveless Tie-Neck Shift Dress - $10.00* - This is a solid-color version of a printed rayon dress I bought a few months ago, which has been in my three-dress rotation for weekends this summer (along with the older version of the Grana V-Neck Silk Slip Dress and a Madewell cotton-silk blend dress I bought secondhand). I also wear that dress and a cardigan to work sometimes, on our casual (but no jeans) Fridays. So this was an easy choice when I found myself needing more summer clothes that fit me for my trip. One thing I've noticed about rayon is that when some items are line-dried, they initially look a bit stiff and wrinkly, but once you shake it out a bit, the texture goes back to normal.
  • Old Navy Tassel-Tie Flutter-Sleeve Shift Dress - $24.00* - Note that, while it isn't clear from the store photos (it's more obvious on the white version), this one has a sort of "babydoll dress" silhouette, hanging straight out and down from a point right above the bust, i.e. it's something that could easily have that "boob tent" effect I sometimes mention as a thing I avoid. Except that this dress is also a bit slimmer and less flared out than many other dresses of the type, so it ends up looking more like a shift dress, and I think the flutter sleeves also help balance out and prevent that tent-like effect. It's a linen-rayon blend.
  • Old Navy Relaxed Lightweight Cap-Sleeve Shirt - $14.00* - This shirt sort of looks like the Madewell Courier Shirt, though the cotton-rayon blend is softer and flowier than the light 100% cotton Madewell tends to use. (And it's not as intentionally oversized as the Courier.) A year or two back, I'd tried on a striped Courier shirt very similar to this, but sent it back because the Courier was not flattering on me, making my entire torso look as wide as the widest part of my chest. This softer material and slimmer-fit shirt suits me better, though it is still has a relaxed fit. I also ordered a 100% cotton version, but it fit more awkwardly, and the buttons gapped (a common issue with cotton button-downs on bustier figures). 
* Indicates that price per item is an estimate, due to the way the discount was calculated by the store. 

Beauty and Skincare - (TOTAL: $26.50) 
  • The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% - $6.50 - I'm just about the last skincare fan I know to finally try The Ordinary. It's so affordable, with an emphasis on key active ingredients, that I think almost everyone who likes exploring new skincare would want to try them at least once. This is the only one of the three products I've tried so far. I'd thought it was breaking me out, but later determined that the actual culprit was the CosRx Aloe Soothing Sun Cream. I'm going to try this again, but haven't yet had a chance to. 
  • The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA - $10.00 - Both niacinamide and alpha arbutin are supposed to be good for fading dark spots. Post-acne hyper-pigmentation is the main skin issue that I'd turn to over the counter products to help with. (Acne is a much bigger skin problem for me, but I now rely on prescriptions to control it.) It'll probably be a while before I get to this, as I'm now very slow with testing new products. 
  • The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution - $10.00 - Out of the three products, this is the one I'm least likely to be able to easily incorporate into my current routine. After being on a newly more minimalist routine on a dermatologist's orders, and going back to nightly use of Retin-A Micro, my skin's far more sensitive now! A few months ago, I tried re-incorporating my previous CosRx BHA products (previously, the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid and BHA Returning A-Sol were a good one-two combination for me as part of my morning routine), but now that I'm back to using Retin-A Micro nightly, my skin can't handle daily use of BHA anymore. That likely means that a weekly peel like this product may not be a good idea either... That's the thing about skincare marketing though, people with problem skin always hope a new product will magically make a huge difference.

Have you tried the Ordinary products? Did you like them? Is your wardrobe big enough to keep you outfitted for a long-ish trip in any given climate? With winter clothing, I wouldn't need half as much, and am totally set, as I wear most sweaters and jeans several times between washes, possibly for several weeks. I get quite sweaty and gross in summer, however (especially in the armpits, ick, and the clothes get smelly), so most summer dresses and tops can generally only be worn once before needing a wash. I should have foreseen this situation earlier in the summer, when I would have had more time to shop more carefully for a new summer dress or two, or a new top, but well, that didn't quite happen.