Saturday, February 16, 2019

Link List: Some Movie and TV Show Chatter

It was only after Sandra Oh won her Golden Globe that I finally watched Killing Eve. I had heard a lot about the show when it was originally running, but wasn't sure if it was something I would enjoy. I think I had envisioned something more dour and serious, which isn't quite to my tastes. Instead, it turns out that Killing Eve is wickedly funny, and that the two leads, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, are excellent, both perfect in their roles. I would try and describe the show more, but I don't think I would do it justice. In short, I highly recommend Killing Eve!

1. // This series of comments from the wonderful, thoughtful Courtney Milan (seriously, she's the best, everything she has to say about problems in the profession, law school, and the institution of the federal clerkship is always super on-point, as someone who has been there to experience all those things, and from following her Twitter account for months now, her general sheer brilliance as a person is also in full view all the darn time) regarding some of the harsh truths about success in law school and the, er, general inability of professors to give good advice about whether the law school investment will pay off, is super accurate.

I adore my professors from both college and law school and credit them with a lot of good and important things, but providing me with career advice or actually knowing anything concrete about what I've faced in student loan repayment or in building my career are not among them. The best advice my favorite undergraduate History professor gave me (theirs was a field I loved dearly, though that wouldn't have prepared me to pursue graduate studies) was that I should absolutely not, under any circumstances, make the decision to go straight to graduate school in their field without having spent at least a year or two doing something else. I was honestly a bit heartbroken to hear it, but dang, it would have been a bad life decision if I had ignored their advice. 

2. // Definitely check out this interview with Lulu Wang, the director of The Farewell, a new film starring Awkwafina, which just premiered at Sundance. The premise is something I hadn't realized might be a more widespread Chinese cultural practice, but it is something that has happened with my extended family in Taiwan, with my maternal grandfather. (In my family's case, there was only a very short period of time between his lung cancer diagnosis and when he passed, so the situation was less... complicated than it is for Ms. Wang's family.) 

3. // There's currently a lawsuit going on between Chanel and TheRealReal disputing, among other things, TheRealReal's ability to reliably authenticate Chanel products. (There's also a r/femalefashion advice discussion, though I should note that one's ability to fully discuss a legal case might be limited if one hasn't reviewed the papers. I also haven't looked at the filings for myself.) This case is in its earliest stages (there's apparently been a motion to dismiss, and now an amended complaint), which means there's been nothing but allegations thrown around, no actual evidence has yet been assessed by the court, much less a jury.

Although I am, on balance, a fan of TheRealReal, I know that some bloggers I follow and link to have had mixed experiences with their quality control. (I don't think anyone I read has reported issues with suspected counterfeit product, though.) I'm also generally aware that there are lots of fake designer bags out there, some of which might be difficult to discern from the real thing, at least when looking at photos. Thus, as a customer with no real firsthand experience with designer bags anywhere particularly close to the Chanel price point (and who can't, therefore, reliably authenticate any purchases on her own), I'm inclined to being nervous about any company's ability to have a 100% accuracy rate when authenticating an incredibly large volume of items from a wide range of brands. There have also been other allegations about TheRealReal letting fake designer items slip through, though that was about clothing, not bags. Because I've only ever bought anything from TheRealReal that they priced in the $50 to $100 range, I'm not actually that worried about my items being fake. Still, these allegations may be important food for thought for anyone considering a more expensive purchase from them.

4. // Luxe wrote about using a credit card perk, car rental insurance from Chase Sapphire Reserve, to recover slightly over $6,000 in fees. What a saga, and as she explains, it was extraordinarily time-consuming, took ages, and must have been quite stressful! Thankfully, it had a happy ending. I commented there about my own experience with using a credit card insurance perk (travel insurance from Chase Sapphire Preferred, an offer that may have since been discontinued), but my experiences (with only ~$200 at stake) were definitely far less lively. 

Audrey wrote about her bullet journal layouts - we seem to share the practice of keeping a bare-bones and un-prettified bullet journal. Mine are, alas, not presentable to the public, even in blurred out or redacted form. My handwriting is too messy, and even with a notebook with gridded pages, I have a hard time drawing neat, straight lines. Michelle has been sharing photos from her new apartment, including her living room. I always like seeing how other people decorate their living spaces!  

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

5. // I've been doing a bit of window-shopping lately, though I haven't seen many items in those searches that have made it onto my shopping list for more serious consideration. I can't help it, I swear, I just really like to browse shops online! 

This isn't quite consistent with my sense of my own personal style (which doesn't have much use for a leopard-printed skirt, though I like leopard print on other things, particularly shoes) but I found this J.Crew outfit from their website extremely compelling (but for the shoes and headband). I'm quite fond of the idea of whimsical printed sweaters, but can be very picky about the print or design, so I rarely see ones I would actually want to buy. This particular sweater seems to be just the right amount of whimsical to me, not too cutesy while still being fun. 

Uniqlo seems to have brought back that long, open linen-rayon blend cardigan I loved so much last year. I can't tell if this year's blue shade is identical to last year's, but they've brought back what looks to be the same gray one. I really like wearing these cardigans over both my work and casual dresses once the weather warms up, and I wore mine throughout the whole summer last year. Also, I was intrigued by these new linen-rayon blend "short sleeve long shirts" until I realized they aren't dresses. To me, they definitely look long enough to be worn that way (as long as the side slits aren't cut scandalously high for that purpose, but that can't be easily discerned from the website photos). 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

On Adulthood, (Not) Having it All, and the Marie Kondo Show


In some ways, 2018 was the first year I felt like a "real" adult. Although I graduated college nearly a decade before, and had been financially self-sufficient since, the path I've taken since graduation has also been rather circuitous, full of arguable fits and starts. I went from school to short-term academic fellowship; to law school; to what was technically a full-time biglaw job of open-ended duration (but because of the known end date to start my clerkship, combined with the firm's reluctance to staff soon-to-be clerks on long-term projects, it sometimes felt artificially like a short-term gig); and finally to the clerkship, another short-term job. For nearly a decade, everything had a definite expiration date that I knew about well in advance.

It's not that I wasn't technically an adult, or that I didn't act like one. In all that time, I made many big, grown-up decisions, some of them with huge financial implications. Going in to law school, I felt very certain of myself and what I wanted from life, and I felt quite grown-up as a result. I knew I wanted children someday (hopefully two, as it's wonderful, especially now, to have a sibling close in age, though we fought like cats and dogs as children), that I wouldn't like to raise them while living in the city (because I just couldn't imagine that, being a lifelong child of the suburbs), and that I'd like to continue working after (far and away the most common scenario for my peers and professional role models). I was fairly sure of all these things back then, and remain fairly certain about them now. 

Except that, looking back, I was also rather willfully not thinking about some of the practical realities associated with those things I wanted, as I started reflecting on last year. I still want these things nonetheless, but I hadn't really thought about just how hard it might be to have all of them at once. Heck, I've been known to get driven slightly to tears by the prospect of cooking a poorly-designed, highly inefficient Blue Apron meal after a long day at the office, in a week when my hours were biglaw-ish (and K's even more so, so if anyone was going to cook and avoid wasting food and money, it had to be me), and we don't even have kids yet!

2018 was the first year of my adult life spent entirely in a job or other pursuit with no clear, built-in end date. Because of that, it also felt like the first year I truly had an opportunity to begin thinking concretely about the type of life I wanted in the long term, that I would choose for myself. Do I want to stay in the private sector, or do I want to someday go into public service? Will I want, at some point, to make the tradeoff of taking a significant pay-cut for fewer working hours and greater scheduling flexibility? If and when I have children, will I be able to go to school events that take place during business hours? How much childcare and cleaning help do I expect our household to hire*, exactly, give that we are both likely to continue working full-time?

This isn't meant to be a sad post, by the way. By now, I think most women around my age have long since realized they probably can't have it "all", both a high-powered career and everything else they want at home. Nine times out of ten, "leaning in" probably won't work as well as one might have hoped. And in biglaw, new associates, men and women alike, quickly realize it's a tough industry in ways they didn't fully understand as law students, and that the hours and expectations might not be compatible with a lot of what they want from family life. That's if there's even room at the top for them to stay in the industry in the long, long term. (Let's not even talk about the particular challenges for women and minorities, that's a story for another day.) One has to be prepared for tradeoffs, that's just part of life.

And even after thinking about all these questions for a year, I (predictably enough, for someone who is likely still a few years off from starting to make any of those big decisions for real) don't have any clear answers. I would imagine that working through some of these questions is a lifelong process, one for which the correct answer, and the work-life balance or compromise captured in it, is constantly being revisited. Circumstances will inevitably change from month to month and year to year, and with that, one's position regarding all these concerns (amount of hired help; what salary one is aiming for; what expected working hours one can, or needs, to accept, etc.) will need to change too.

I maybe feel a bit silly writing all these paragraphs of introduction when I truly have no answers, only questions. Actually, the only thing I feel particularly sure about sharing today was my thoughts regarding episode three of the Marie Kondo show, about the Mersiers (a charming family of four struggling to downsize from a multiple-story house in Michigan to a small, two-bedroom apartment in the Los Angeles area). Specifically, the episode illustrated something I found painfully real about some of these questions surrounding housework, emotional labor, and the gendered dimensions of those things.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Shopping From Italic, and Some Thoughts on Startup-y Retailer Marketing

Italic's "Albee" cardholder bears a strong resemblance to a certain Saint Laurent cardholder I used to want.

Some of you may remember that, a few months ago, a startup called Italic did a big marketing push, getting featured in places like Vox and TechCrunch. Their premise was simple, they claimed to offer products made in the same factories as well-known designer brands such as Celine and Prada. As The Fashion Law noted, this approach to marketing may be iffy, to the extent that it involves the explicit use of other brands' trademarks to sell their products. (I don't know enough about "soft IP" law, copyright or trademarks, to know whether this is actually an approach that's potentially going to lead to legal issues, but it sounds plausible that it's something to research further and be cautious about doing.) 

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! None of the Italic links are affiliate links, and this post is not sponsored, I was intrigued by the company and bought an item on my own volition. I quite like the cardholder, but am lukewarm about most other things to do with the brand, as you can see below.

I suspect that most who read here are inclined to be skeptical about Italic's marketing taglines, "luxury goods, no brands" or "no brands, no markups". If nothing else, it vaguely sounds like concepts that are old hat to us by now. For instance, it's not that unlike some of the ideas behind Everlane's original, more limited product line. As late as 2014, when I bought an Everlane slim zip wallet and Petra tote, their bags had no visible external branding. Cuyana's handbags also have minimal external branding. And, if you recall that "fancy millenial" article Michelle and Elaine also shared, lots of these startup-y brands that target our demographic build their brand identities on claiming to offer products comparable to those from fancier, more expensive and more well-established brands for relatively modest prices. (Away seems to try and compete with Tumi or Rimowa, for example, and Everlane used to claim the "traditional retail" price of the Petra Magazine Tote they sold at ~$450 was ~$1,200, the price of a Chloe tote. Their "traditional retail" price claims for their current line of leather handbags are a bit less ambitious.) None of those brands have, to my knowledge, ever claimed to use the same factories as this or that other bigger, more well-known brand while identifying said brands by name, that much seems unique to Italic. 

Also, I don't think it's a surprise to us that higher-end brands and other brands may use some of the same factories for certain products. That much is stated in both Dana Thomas's Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster and Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion, both of which were already old news when I read and reviewed them back in 2014. It's not really a selling point for any brand, I would think, it's just the reality of how the industry works. And I'd suspect, without actually having any specialized knowledge about the business side of the industry, that just because one company uses the same factory as another, it doesn't mean the resulting products would necessarily be comparable. It seems to me to be common sense that the design, materials, and many other non factory-specific details must also go into determining the "quality" of the resulting product.

Still, just as Everlane and Cuyana bags (and their general brand identities and marketing campaigns) appeal to me, I was also curious about Italic. With all these "fancy millenial" brands, I'm basically the exact target customer, and am often a total sucker for their marketing regardless of my occasional bemusement. So I signed up.

They currently have a "waitlist" for new registrations, which I find rather gimmick-y, and it took a week or so for me to be able to sign up and shop. Oh, and they also plan to charge a $120/year membership fee someday, though they've "waived" that fee for now, for everyone that signs up prior to a certain unspecified cutoff date in the future. Obviously, from all I've ever written here, one can probably guess that there's absolutely no way I'd ever pay $120/year for the "privilege" of shopping anywhere! Once they start charging a membership fee, I'll be out of there immediately.

Even if I'm skeptical about quite a few things to do with Italic, when I saw this "Albee" textured leather cardholder for $40 (also available in gray and black), compared to the $200-plus of a certain Saint Laurent "Five Fragments" card holder I've long been interested in (but that is far too expensive for me for a wallet when I have other perfectly functional ones), I decided to try it. There are some differences in the two designs, including the lack of visible logo on Italic's, the leather zipper pull, and an added pocket in the back that's not present in the original (see photos of original at TheRealReal), though the, er, source of inspiration for the "Albee" is still quite obvious and largely undeniable.

Presently, shipping from Italic is quite slow and expensive. I didn't keep close track of the order date and delivery date, and I don't think they did a shipment notification email either, but I believe it took close to two weeks, if not a little longer, for it to arrive. Shipping cost $10, so my purchase cost me $50 in total, which I think is still a fair price for the cardholder.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Link List: Money Lessons and Other Things

Wearing my new to me Alexis Bittar bracelet. In this light, one can almost see why my recent interest in jade bangles led me to it, at least in terms of the color!

It's now been long enough since I graduated law school that I have a few friends who have left their first workplaces, sometimes in order to leave NYC and sometimes in order to do something that's not biglaw. I've found it exciting to see where my peers and former colleagues end up, though we're still so new to this profession that it's still impossible to predict what our careers will actually look like in the long term. I am always a bit sad, however, when any of my friends move out of the city. Of my closest law school friends, only a few are still here!

1. // I enjoyed this article about Kathy's novel, Family Trust (affiliate link). There's a very particular perspective presented in the novel, one that I'm very familiar with. It depicts a community that's very similar to the one I grew up in (some would call it the exact same one, but I'm not sure that's 100% correct, mine was a few zip codes away, among other things). A lot has changed in the Silicon Valley since I was a child. 

2. // I also enjoyed Carly the Prepster's post about her thought process when making a recent large designer handbag purchase, in this case, a Chanel bag. Among other things, it gives some insight into how she runs her successful social media-based business (for further context, she once indicated during an AMA two years ago that her blog brought in mid-six figures of revenue/year at the time). It also touches on larger themes I'm interested in, including about the money lessons one learns from one's parents (whether those lessons were intentionally taught or not, a theme I last discussed over at Sherry's). And well, as one can see from much of what I write here, I too enjoy writing at somewhat excessive length about my thought process for various purchases! 

I was a little surprised to see that many at r/blogsnark found that post annoying. I can see the reason for some of the criticisms. For instance, it really sounds like her parents were a perfectly reasonable level of frugal (through things like not ordering sodas or desserts at restaurants most of the time, driving older cars, paying off their mortgage, and prioritizing things like paying for college tuition for their children, etc.). While I'm definitely familiar with how a parent's sensible approach to money can still have unintended consequences, in which their child interprets from it certain unhelpful lessons (in my case, the focus on "sale section only" shopping I was raised with may have fed into some of my bad shopping habits later), I don't generally think it's fair to be too critical of one's parents for something like that, at least when it's clear that the odder, less useful lessons were accidentally conveyed.

Also, I agree with Luxe that, like Carly specifically mentioned, it's perfectly reasonable, and even rather smart, to save for a wedding before such an event is actually, er, concretely on the horizon. Weddings can be expensive, and the sometimes brief window between engagement and when people start putting down deposits for wedding-related expenses could mean that, if one has a certain type of wedding in mind, one can't exactly... wait until the engagement has happened to start saving, given the amount that might soon be needed. 

I do understand that it's not exactly "cute" for someone in an extremely strong and privileged financial position to fuss overly much about money-related anxieties. It could easily sound bad or terribly out of touch. That's why I try to be cautious about how I write about my own finances, to always keep in mind that I've been incredibly fortunate to have the economic opportunities I have. At the same time though, I do see the US as being a society where it's perfectly normal even for people in an excellent financial position to still be afraid about money and their future. A major medical emergency could decimate almost anyone's finances here, and that's legitimately terrifying, and reasonably so.

3. // And now for some other blog entries that I've been reading lately: I found Adina's detailed, thoughtful post about her local thrifting scene very interesting, as she's definitely an expert. I was entertained by Kitty and Piggy's post about how to write and cash checks, which, let's just say, may no longer be a skill that one learns naturally in the course of becoming a young adult these days. I don't think I had a checkbook until I was in law school, and that was only because student housing didn't accept rent payments any other way. And I admit that I had to do some research on Google before I really knew how to write my first check. Elaine's posts about her experiences with selling through TheRealReal (affiliate link) will be helpful if I ever decide to resell anything that way.