Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Visualizing (Nearly) Four Years of Shopping

I joke often about how, despite my longtime blogging habit and my fascination with the sociological and cultural implications of social media, I'm a total dinosaur when it comes to actually using social media myself, both as a blogger and in my personal capacity. For instance, I still don't "get" Twitter and find it slightly terrifying, despite recently opening a new account (in what's rapidly proving to be a failed experiment because I don't dare do much more than retweet things I think are funny or interesting without adding commentary). Similarly, I've only recently started understanding Pinterest and using it in earnest, including to keep track of my personal style inspiration albums, both Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer, and to make a quick visual representation of my fashion-related shopping since I started tracking it with my monthly budget posts in January 2015. 

As I put together that board, I became curious about whether I could do some further analysis of my shopping "success rate" over the years, unscientific as such an analysis would inevitably be. After all, I view personal style as more art than science, and my own preferences for my closet are driven far more by subjective emotional responses to certain pieces than rational, quantifiable practicality. Note, for instance, my strange preoccupation with sweater blazers, expressed by buying no less than five in the past few months, definitely more than any one person needs (particularly one who already owns as many other cardigans as I do).

In particular, I was curious about whether it's possible to see how good (or not) I've been at this four years and counting process of trying to move towards more conscious and careful shopping and towards practicing certain tenets of "minimalism-ish" with my closet. That is, after all, one of the main topics I've been writing about all this time!

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!

Before we begin, one quick note: Because I wasn't 100% systematic about how comprehensively I illustrated my purchases over the years (i.e., sometimes I'll just show the blazer when I bought the full suit); whether I included multiple purchases of the same item in one month (i.e. showing one pair of tights instead of copy-pasting the same image a second time when I actually bought two pairs); and whether I included gifts (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't), these images aren't a fully accurate visualization of all new additions to my closet between January 2015 and October 2018. It also doesn't give a sense of the actual state of my closet, because there are still many items in my wardrobe that predated the start of my monthly budget posts. Most of my work wardrobe, for instance, was purchased when I was a summer associate in 2014, generally at Loft or Ann Taylor, and those pieces, particularly the dresses, are mostly still going strong.  

I'm feeling a bit sheepish about my MSPaint-level image editing skills, but this was the best way I could think of to easily visualize which purchases have been successful, and which ones didn't turn out to be such a good idea, despite my best efforts at planning things out and thinking about every purchase for at least a few days, preferably longer, before making it. Here's how I approached the analysis depicted above, and what it all means:

  • Red dots correspond to items I've removed from my closet, or items for which I've made the decision to do so.
    • Burgundy dots are items I've resold, given away, or, in certain limited instances, discarded, usually when the item is ineligible for ThredUp resale and is also something that couldn't be resold on eBay or Poshmark. For example, nobody wants my previously worn H&M winter tights towards the bottom left (they were scratchy and not even that warm). For the H&M rayon jersey summer dresses I bought near the end of my clerkship year, a.k.a. the year of the massive paycut, they were the only items I've ever had that were of such unsatisfactory quality that they lasted less than a year. I'd never previously had any other rayon jersey shrink up so dramatically just from machine-washing in cold water and line-drying!
    • Bright red dots indicate items I now know aren't useful to me, often after using them for some time, though generally not enough to cause significant signs of wear. These have proven to be mistake purchases, and I'm in the process of figuring out what to do with them, whether reselling or giving them away. I only use one such item frequently, the Bloomingdales cashmere pop-top mittens (current version). I should have known the wind would cut right through them, it's an obvious and natural consequence of the design. I should have gotten a good pair of tech gloves instead.
  • Green dots are items that have left my closet due to reasonable wear and tear, or, in some cases, where I was the one at fault if the item wore out quicker than expected. For instance, Wolford tights can normally withstand more than a year of frequent washing and wearing, but I shredded a pair of Wolford Neon 40s by accident. My pearl studs from Amazon hold up well to daily wear, including when I'm in the shower or asleep, but, very rarely, I'll lose one. 
  • Yellow dots indicate items I'm on the fence about. It's generally somewhat likely that I won't be getting much more use from them before I figure out what to do though they're generally all in good enough shape to give away or resell. The reasons for my ambivalence vary considerably, some are more understandable than others:
    • The Everlane Modern Points simply will not be broken in enough to be comfortable enough to walk around outside in, despite my best efforts.
    • Sometimes, I made an error in judgment I should have foreseen, like with the cotton Uniqlo crew-neck cardigans I bought before I realized I loved the long linen-blend cardigans so much more that I would always reach for those first. 
    • Other times, I purchased something for what I reasonably predicted would be a real need, but the need ended up not arising as often as I thought. This happened with the Old Navy ponte blazer because I simply haven't had many days of multiple formal meetings and/or court dates in a row where I feel the need to reach for a "pretend blazer" like that. Nonetheless, I'll likely keep this because there's always a chance the need will end up arising after all. 
    • For a few things, like the Gorjana small bar necklace, my tastes have changed, and for others, the items don't fit me well anymore. 
    • Some of the items are lower-quality than expected, are showing wear and tear much faster than I hoped, and feel like disappointing mistakes for that reason. The Rothy's have, unfortunately, not held up any better than leather ballet flats typically would to my way of walking, which destroys them in three months or less of frequent wear. (I'm actually kind of devastated the Rothy's aren't a near-perfect, reasonably durable work shoe for me, the way they are for some of my colleagues.) 

Please follow the link below for further analysis and some truly copious reflections, including some crunching of the numbers, which are a bit more accurate than just going by the illustrations above. While making the calculations, I went back through my old monthly shopping posts to correct some details, and also updated the numbers to account for November 2018's shopping, which is excluded from the images above.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Blog Thoughts, Year Four

Invincible Summer is almost four years old! As always, I remain deeply grateful to everyone for being here, for everyone who reads along, and for everyone who chimes in to discussions with me. I'm still absolutely thrilled by, pleasantly surprised by, and always thankful for everyone who's here. Looking back at my previous "blogiversary" posts (please follow these links to my first yearsecond year, and third year posts), one thing that's been constant all these years is my effusive appreciation for everyone who reads along. Writing here is a delight, and everyone I've interacted with through this blog has always been wonderful. Even when someone might not agree with me about everything (and that's perfectly okay! I have grouchier than average views about tons of things), everyone has always engaged with my ideas respectfully, and in good faith, which is all I can ask for. It's one of the main things I hoped for when I started this blog in December of 2014, in a fit of nostalgia for what I remembered about 2008-era blogging.

Deep down, part of me is still that college student who, sometime around 2008, first realized that there were entire communities of blogs out there talking about fashion* in a far more accessible-to-me way than magazines or traditional media, and who found that absolutely magical and inspiring. Looking back, I was one of those young women for whom The Devil Wears Prada first ignited a powerful interest in fashion, except that it was also clear to me, even back then, that the film and the fashion industry it depicted also weren't for people like me. They clearly all occupied a fanciful, expensive, and glamorous world completely removed from my own, one that I would likely never be able to access. Accordingly, fashion magazines couldn't teach me anything about how to translate "fashion" to my more mundane, college student life.

Separately, like so many people in that awkward, gawky stage between being a teenager and a young adult, I also felt so often like I was an ugly duckling with no idea how to ever become that fully-fledged professional adult I hoped to be someday. The idea that the right outfit and some effort with hair and makeup could help facilitate that transformation, to help "fake it 'til you make it", was a big deal to me. It meant that I might not always need to feel so out of place, it might actually be within my power to someday, after having earned the right to do so, fit in as a working adult who could sometimes buy and wear some nice and beautiful things, and that I wouldn't be this gawky, hyper-awkward teen forever.

But I was hopelessly lost when it came to how I could possibly begin that process and figure it all out. Blogs were the first thing to really start bridging that gap. There I was, this young woman who could only ever shop at H&M (which felt expensive for me back then, by the way, I could only shop there sparingly!), Forever 21, Ross, and Target, and who had no idea how to put together outfits that looked anything like what I aspired to. But look(!), I could learn from all these other young women around my age and who also had modest budgets (generally, they were all students or very new entry-level professionals) who were out there putting together these really cool outfits, often with a lot of thrifting and secondhand shopping. Reading fashion blogs back then, particularly in the daily outfit genre, was such an important formative experience for me, and I'll always look back on my memory of fashion blogs from back then with considerable affection.

Even though that era of blogging is, I think, almost universally seen as being long gone, I'm still so excited and happy to feel like I can still recapture some of that old spark of what I loved about 2008-ish blogging here, and by reading the blogs I link to in my sidebar. I feel so lucky to be able to engage and connect with the ideas of so many other smart, interesting people through their blogs and my own. No matter how bad or weird or scary the internet or social media can get sometimes, I will always appreciate and value the good things that it's brought to me. 

Changing Views

While preparing this post, it was interesting for me to look all the way back at my first year "blogiversary" post to see how my thoughts on blogging have changed over the years, if at all. I'm still just as fond of blogger outfit photos showcasing items I'm in the market for as I used to be, though my commitment to taking such photos of myself has waxed and waned wildly over time. (I remain quite embarrassed by my weak photography skills, but also sort of continue to be without the will to improve.) I still feel like the "aspiring minimalist"-ish focus I first started with has slightly taken a backseat, this time to personal finance and career-related topics, which I write about far more freely now than I did back then. 

One sizable change is that I'm now far less grouchy than I used to be about the fact that fashion blogs and other types of social media out there can be monetized, sometimes to extremely lucrative effect. Although I haven't gained much new practical knowledge about photography, Instagram engagement stats, the business of social media, or anything like that for myself, I'm now much more appreciative about how much work those things are than I was before. It makes me feel very silly, actually, that I didn't realize this sooner. 

My true turning point on this issue, random as it is, may have been seeing a brief discussion on Corporette about Gal Meets Glam's collection at Nordstrom. Someone was being snide about why Nordstrom would carry it, and another commenter very reasonably pointed out that, hey, Julia Engel has more than a million Instagram followers. Regardless of whether one likes social media, and regardless of whether one likes her style, that represents real economic power. Plus, if a mattress review website can make as much as $2 million/year, which I think is more than double what some of the bigger players in fashion blogging make (albeit based on anecdotes that are a few years old), or if people from more genres than I am even capable of imagining (including in my wildest nightmares, recall the DaddyofFive and Logan Paul controversies) are raking in several times that on Youtube, then, well, it just doesn't make much sense for me to get grouchy about monetization and fashion/lifestyle blogs. As long as people are transparent and clear in their disclosures of what posts are sponsored and how affiliate links work, and as long as people generally try to make it so that people can "opt out" of the links and find the items separately on their own (all things I try to do here), it's all good in my book.

Please follow the link below for my annual blog income report and a "footnote" to this post. Thank you again for your support of Invincible Summer throughout the year!

Monday, December 3, 2018

November 2018 Shopping Reflections

Before I begin with this month's shopping budget post, let me just say, I have had some thoughts about Black Friday this year. We'll see if I ever get to writing about it, or if it ends up being one of my many ideas for blog posts here that I sit on and mull over until, all of a sudden, it's been a year and it would just be strange and untimely to go back and actually write it and post it. It's a far less weighty and important topic than so many of the other ideas I've had that are still waiting in the queue, so I guess the chances of my ever actually writing that Black Friday 2018 post are quite low. I definitely don't have any particularly special or revolutionary ideas about it, that's for sure.

For now, I'll just say that, as a purely practical matter, I'm largely on the same page as Luxe about Black Friday: It brings sales (and I like sales and track them closely), but it isn't typically something I get too excited about. There are, after all, so very many sales all year round, and many of those other sales at other times of the year give me better value for the items I'm in the market for when compared to what pops up around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

One other thing that's part of my complicated feelings about Black Friday this year: I'll confess I felt some anger start bubbling up whenever I chanced upon something online that made it clear the author saw themselves as being above Black Friday and being above all those consumerist fools who shop during it (like this Buzzfeed thing, what relevance do photos from a decade ago have to the here and now?). More than almost anything else, I dislike snobbery and elitism (it's part of what motivates my strange, recurring complex about whether I'm being judged by others in my line of work for wearing modestly priced suits and work clothes), and I see elements of both in many a lofty statement or "hot take" about Black Friday.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $448.08)
  • Alighieri Surreal Earrings - $195.20 - This month is a bit of a capstone to what's proven to be a year of getting obsessed with and buying jewelry, generally more expensive costume jewelry. These Surreal earrings have been one of my favorite designs since I first learned about Alighieri, so when I saw that they were part of the limited selection that was discounted for the brand's 30% off Black Friday sale, I jumped right on them. These are definitely sizable enough to make a bit of a statement, and are a little outside of my comfort zone with earrings, as someone who typically only wore pearl studs for years. They're actually not too heavy, though. Like all of my other Alighieri pieces (including the Jaja necklace, which is now on sale at Ssense for a much better price than I got), these earrings are beautiful. In terms of my minimalism-ish, I don't feel too bad about the jewelry I buy from small, artist-owned brands, as I'm supporting the artist and her work directly. (In addition to the Alighieri pieces I bought for myself this year, I also got the Porcelain and Stone Small Uni Necklace as a birthday present from my mom.) 
  • Mejuri Dome Bracelet -$80.75 - As for my Mejuri purchases, which I got for 15% off during their Black Friday sale, they were also items I'd been thinking about for a while. I love the look of this bracelet. The clasp is a little fussy, sometimes one side of it loosens up during the day, but it's not fussy or impractical enough to make it distracting or annoying to wear, I don't worry that the bracelet will fall off or anything. One thing that I do notice every time I try a new Mejuri item, they're always smaller and lighter than I expect, which isn't the fault of the brand, I'm probably just inexperienced with buying dainty jewelry. 
  • Mejuri Dome Hoops - $50.15 - A while back, I had ordered the Mejuri Bold Hoops to try, but returned them right away because they weren't quite as bold or weighty on me as I'd hoped. Among other things, I generally don't like "huggie" style hoops, where the entire hoop opens and closes when taking the earrings on and off, I just find it odd. They also weren't the right size for me and looked awkward, my piercings are a little too high on my earlobe for them to look quite right. So when the Black Friday sale rolled around, I knew that if any Mejuri hoop earring was going to work for me, it was going to be these Dome Hoops instead, and I really liked them once I received them. 
  • J.Crew Juliette Sweater Blazer, burgundy - $74.00 - Well, I did say I'd probably get this as soon as I saw a 40% off discount or better, which eventually happened in the days leading up to Black Friday. And then on Black Friday, they switched it up to a 50% discount. I've pretty much already said everything I could possibly say about this item, including when I photographed it in an outfit a while back.
  • Sam Edelman Lior Loafer, gold glitter - $47.98 - (other sale colors here and here) - This exact shoe from Nordstrom is old out, but the similar "Loraine" design is still available in gold glitter for a similar sale price at Lord and Taylor, and also at Zappos for a higher price. (As Elle mentioned, Nordstrom  is the only retailer to order this Sam Edelman shoe in the modified "Lior" design.) I bought a pair of Sam Edelman loafers in black leather in May, and they've become one of my favorite shoes. On that pair, the leather is extremely soft and a bit more "squishy" than on any other pair of leather shoes I've tried on in recent memory, which did make me worry about durability, but I haven't had any problems yet despite not babying them. These were, no doubt, an impulsive purchase. As I mentioned in March this year, I've long had an on-again, off-again interest in gold glitter flats, but had never seen any that fit the look I had in mind (I was envisioning a pair of ballet flats, or maybe a pair of smoking slipper-inspired flats). When I saw these glittery ones from Sam Edelman in a design I knew would work for me, and for a great sales price, I decided on a whim that I should get them, even though it's also not exactly the look I'd been thinking of. 

Did you shop any Black Friday sales this year? Am I the only one who gets oddly upset sometimes by some of the more judgmental Black Friday narratives out there? I don't know what it is that's making me  unusually sensitive about it this year!