After Christmas Sales Strategies

Econ gurus cited a number of reasons why retailers didn't do as well as expected this holiday season. Some people were forced by high gas prices to cut back on their Christmas spending. Others were smart (or lazy, depending on how you look at it) and decided to buy gift cards instead. Another factor is the timing of Hannukah this year. Either way, gift card recipients, Hannukah shoppers, Kwanzaa shoppers, and people rewarding themselves are cashing in on after Christmas sales, in which retailers are supposedly heavily slashing prices in desperation to match their forecast numbers. However, I went to the mall 2 days before and then 2 days after Christmas and didn't really find that big of a difference in prices. Sure, a few items were much more heavily discounted yesterday (like yummy smelling body butter at Bath and Body Works, now $5 instead of $13), but for the most part, meh.

If you're treating yourself, proceed with caution. You avoided "sales" traps while you were doing Christmas shopping, so don't fall into them now. Don't buy things just because they are on sale, especially if you don't really need them and they'll just sit in some dark corner of your house. I had to tear myself away from the pumpkin spice body butter because I already had several bottles of lotion that will last me for a long time; even if it's "only" $5, it's $5 that could have been spent on better things like gas (which is still over $2/gal X 10 gal/wk = $20/wk). If that doesn't encourage you to avoid the traps, just remember how much of a hit your wallet just took for Christmas presents. For me, it's around $150; it might be more for you. Those 3-digit figures should hopefully chill your rash charge-it impulses.

Before you go shopping for you, make a New Year's resolution. Even if it won't last you that far into the New Year, it does help save you a bit of money; if it does stick, it's a great beginning to a better you. My bad habit is that while the clothes I buy are good and cheap, $5 here, $10 there, and it really adds up. Hence, I resolve that for the next 3 months, I'll buy only what I need or have always wanted if they are supercheap. After that, my monthly allowance for fashion items is $20, allowing for roll-over but no "advanced credit." The resolution forced me to think hard and make a list of things I really need and just a couple of things that I really want. I encourage you to make a similar list for your post-Christmas shopping adventures. What do you really need? What can wait?

The what you want/what can wait list is helpful for the next step: deciding *when* to go buy those items. Right now some stores are pricing things between 50-60% off. Based on my experiences, the 70-75% sales will come in late January. For things that you want but don't need, or things that are too expensive even on sale now, just wait. Face it, if you can't afford it, you're not getting it. Looking good isn't worth a credit card debt especially when there are so many cheaper alternatives (like accessories from Forever 21, H&M, or Target) you can turn to. If it's something you've always wanted AND you know will fly off the shelves AND you have the money for it, pounce now. When you love something you'll wear it a lot, so that makes up for the higher prices. How do you know if it flies off the shelves? Well, if it's a must-have for you, I'm sure you've been to the store (or website) and ogled at it for the longest time, and you know how quickly certain sizes disappear. If there's plenty of your coveted item, there's a greater likelihood that you'll win if you wait for an extra week or 2.

If you're a student, recent grad, or looking to improve/build a wardrobe, there are several timeless "luxury" items that just became affordable. Prices on cashmere sweaters are starting to drop off and will probably fall even lower if you wait. It may be lower still at discount outlets in a few months, but when it comes to cashmere, I prefer to get them at boutique sales instead of outlets because the delicate cashmere may get more snagged and otherwise damaged the more times it changes hands. I've seen some good cashmere sweaters around $50, and one even as low as $30. Another good staple is a good wool coat. They're falling under $100 now, and with global warming hurting sales this year, prices are likely to go down even more. If you live in warm climates, the need for a coat isn't so urgent (unless you plan to travel), so you can wait another month or two. Keep an eye out for websites of Nordstrom's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, and e-tailers for closeouts. I bought an Anne Klein carcoat this past spring/summer from Classic Closeouts for $30 and have made great use of it these last few weeks. Not the most fitted or the greatest looking, but it does its job and I've gotten so many compliments for it. If they repeat the sale, you can probably score a great deal, too. Finally, if you're into leather, now's a good time too. A good leather blazer or bomber will last you for years. I got a leather blazer from RobMay for $35 about 3 or 4 years ago for $35 instead of $100+. It may not be the greatest quality, but it looked and continues to look great.

A caveat on buying out-of-season items, especially the aforementioned "luxury" ones--make sure that you don't buy crazy colors or cuts that are too trendy, unless you KNOW you'll wear it for years because it fits your personal style. For instance, this year cashmere sweaters were dyed in all kinds of colors and comes in all types of cuts, and some creations were frankly frightening. They may be cheap now, but you aren't going to wear them next year, you're shoving money into a black hole. Personally, I'd go with either cuts and colors that are classic (like crewnecks or cardigans in black, navy, and pastel colors) or something really tastefully avant-garde that will stay interesting year after year. Also, don't buy things in multiple quantities except for basics. This is a default rule to prevent waste in general, but is especially important for trendy stuff.


Post-game Analysis: Lessons from This Year's Christmas Frenzy

Usually I'd get my Christmas shopping done by the end of November, but this year, my heavy courseload and finals really ruined my schedule. I didn't get everything I needed until 2 days before Christmas, and in one case, merely hours before (but it's not all my fault--it's UPS). Still, I'll give myself some credit for finishing in time. Here's a mix of what I did, what I would have done differently, or things I didn't do but might help for next year's Christmas shopping. Not at all useful now, but I feel the need to document this and will re-post them for next Christmas. It might help to keep these in mind for next year's shopping (which starts now with the after-Christmas sales, if you're a year-round shopper like me or still need to get gifts for friends for after-Christmas gift exchanges).

1) In my frenetic rush to finish my shopping, my friend gave me a great reminder: never grab something out of your price range just so you get done. That's how a lot of stores (through pushy sales associates) get you in your frazzled, vulnerable state. You're tired, time is short, and you just want to get done and go home soooo bad. Suddenly those persuasive tones of "he/she'll love it," "this is a really good price" sound very reasonable. However, when it comes to your wallet, be generous to your friends, family, and charities, not to the stores. Be patient, keep yourself psyched by remembering that shopping is a game of sorts; you want to win, and if you stay focused, you'll reap the glories of praises for thoughtful gifts while secretly gloating about how little you spent.

2) If you're going to a mom and pop type of store, engage in shameless haggling. You can't do that for chain stores, and I feel bad about doing this to independent sellers, but mom and pop stores oftentimes sell things for more than chains. Besides, they're running a business, so they aren't stupid and won't sell things to you at a loss unless they had to. Here are 2 examples. The first is what I did that this weekend with my hairdresser (well, not dealing with gifts, but you'll get the idea). She charged me a very low price the last few times I went, even said I was silly for asking her how much on my last trip, but she charged me $5 more this time when I didn't ask. I protested, asking her about what happened to the usual price. I got my usual price. The lesson here is that if you're a usual patron, you have some leverage in getting a lower price in exchange for a long-term business relationship. The second example is what my parents did in finishing their Christmas shopping. You see, haggling is an art nurtured by my family because we've always been poor (hopefully that'll change in the next few years); necessity is a force that obliterates any embarassment I may have in bargaining (my parents have no qualms about it). Last week they went to some random mom and pop store they read about in the newspapers that sold objets d'arts. Some pieces were marked, while others were not, including one beautiful vase. The opening price was $35, but my parents managed to get it down to $25. My mom said that most of the things were made in China and hence cheap, so the store owners really just mark it up to whatever they want and hope people are willing to pay. I think she's right on the money.

3) Be nice. This will be good for your sanity as well as the sanity of people you have to deal with. I had a huge problem with UPS these past few days. Somehow the tracking said "out for delivery," but I found out hours later that it was "out of service range" and will not be redelivered until the 27th. That was unacceptable, so I called in for a will-call pickup that night. I finished the rest of my Christmas shopping, rushed over to the Downtown LA UPS facility, and to my horror, there was a ridiculously long line. As I approached the pedestrian line (there was a long car line as well), there were lots of yelling and cussing by angry customers at the security guard who was checking for names on the list. The security guard system was meant to expedite the process, but angry, yelling people defeats the purpose. Not only is screaming a futile waste of energy (you're not going to get in or get what you want), but you're holding up the rest of the line (pissing off other people), and you're yelling at someone who is just doing his/her job and has no authority to change protocol. You're effectively making his/her job even harder. Besides, you need to preserve your sanity in order to figure out what to do next. I waited in line for an hour only to be told they couldn't locate my package. I knew better than to yell and instead asked what I could do. Even though that didn't work out, at least the next day I was calm and figured out Plan B: calling UPS for the tracking option, explained my situation to a live person, who had someone from the LA center call me. When the LA people called me, I asked to make sure they had the package physically in their hands before I headed over. In the end, I got my package. So if you're in a shipping snag, don't give up! Stay cool, try different options, and it just might work out. If you're nice, people will be more inclined to help you. As much as getting a gift on time will fall in line with the Christmas spirit, the worst that could happen is that your family member or friend will get the gift a day or 2 late. No one is going to die.

4) On the same UPS vein, don't wait till the last minute for online purchases! The huge volume of boxes would overwhelm any shipping company. This year I learned first-hand how many packages UPS handles during the holidays just by the long wait and the number of people standing out in the cold. Aside from UPS, USPS, or FedEx, there's another bottleneck to the shipping time: the e-tailers themselves. Because so many orders come in, the e-tailers won't be able to process them as quickly as they usually can. It took about 4 days between ordering and the time it took to ship out in my case (usually the gap is only a day or 2). If you are busy and can't avoid it (like me), look for free upgrades or cheap/free shipping! Lots of e-tailers this year (like Bluefly) tried to generate more last-minute business by offering either free upgrades to UPS 2nd day, or if it's good ol' regular ground, free or $1 shipping. While cheap shipping isn't going to get your bargains to you any faster, at least you won't have to shell out regular price for something that's probably not going to get here in time. Still, I learned my lesson. Next year, I won't wait until the week before Christmas to have things shipped to me.

5) Always keep a few giftable trinkets around the house, and be prepared to play Grinch. Sometimes you might forget to get gifts for someone, or you decided just minutes before your gift-wrapping session that a particular gift is inadequate. If you're Mr/Ms Forgetful, or if you realized that what you planned to give to Aunt Dottie isn't suitable for her at all, having those extra trinkets around will help you pull together a nice gift package from scratch. There may also be times you when you have take one thing from one gift to make another look more "plump" (a practice otherwise known as "grinching"). In these situations, you can use a trinket or two to try to make that Grinched gift whole again. People will appreciate getting "more" things, even if "more" is just an illusion. There's a third application of trinkets--if you got a small item (like earrings) as a gift, some people might feel you went cheap on them even if the item costs a pretty penny. Again, cheap trinket supplements (like a nice candle and a lotion, just $2 more total) may bulk up the gift considerably, at least to the eye.

6) Buy "rotatable" gifts. I do this every year. When I buy a single gift, I try to have a couple of people in mind so that I can "rotate" things around if needed; there may be times when you suddenly realize that Eliza's gift may be more suitable for Cousin Mabel. This year, I pulled many a switcharoos because I didn't have as much time to think through gift-buying as usual.

7) If you're the ultimate procrastinator, or your gifts were lost or destroyed by forces you can't control, there's always the 24 hour drugstores that are open on Christmas Day. I went to SavOn to pick up some cosmetics and waited in a loooong line, along with people who were there to buy their 12-pack Coronas and Dora the Explorer dolls (taking last-minute shopping quite literally). These days drugstores are quite sophisticated--I've seen digital cameras, DVD players, CD's and DVD's, toys, and tons of other goodies. Still, remember section 1 from above. If you don't want to spend that much, bath sets and manicure kits for the adults are always utilitarian and appropriate, but stay way from junk like aquarium lamps; remember, cheap does not mean cheapo. Inexpensive drugstore gifts can be supplemented with the aforementioned trinkets to look better.


Jonathan Adler Christmas Stuff...

...for $5? Yes, it's true. If you're into designery Christmas stuff, get them before they're gone.

(from final clearance bin at Hold Everything)

Christmas Shopping Saga Part III--LA Apparel Marts

Since this was the last week I can spend time on Christmas shopping at brick-and-mortar locations before my final exams, I decided to go to the Downtown apparel marts again. I brought my friend with me, and we both scored big. During the month of December, many showrooms open for every Friday of the month right up until Christmas (see BargainsLA.com for specifics on designer showrooms of note). The really good sample sales tend to be during this time of the year.

Usually I start with the New Mart, but this time I started with the Cooper Building because the sales I was more interested in were there. I picked up a bit of jewelry from 1 showroom, where my friend bought a $10 Fredricks of Hollywood clutch--perfect for her office holiday party tonight. There were a couple of guys on my shopping list, and guys are always tougher to shop for. The Mon Petit Oiseau showroom took a huge bite out of that problem. I got a couple of cool Charizmatik shirts for $5 each. Never mind that I never heard of the brand before--what I was into was the graphic designs on one of the T-shirts (the other was a nice baseball tee). Finally, the Lily McNeal sale took care of me. Although the Lily McNeal prices and merchandise were good, the prices were still beyond my low budget...I'm not willing to pay more than $15 for a sweater that I don't really need at this time. However, the showroom was also selling a ton of stuff from Development, my favorite label. The dress pants went for $20 and tops for $25. I refuse to pay that much for tops, but I'm willing to invest in pants because it's really difficult to find a pair that fits. After seeing all the wonderful merchandise, my friend is now also in love with Development. She bought a pair of white pants and I bought a pair in a minty green. We absolutely love our purchases.

Even though there weren't many showrooms to hit in the Cooper Building, we spent about 2 hours there. After a quick lunch at the nearby El Pollo Loco, we head over to the New Mart. Usually I find all my cool stuff there, but this trip was absolutely disappointing. Only few showrooms were open and the goods were nothing new, and prices weren't exactly jawdroppingly low for what they were. The only saving graces were the Tarina Tarantino and Gig showrooms. The Tarina Tarantino showroom has great bargains, especially for little hairclips. Things range from $5 to $40. They didn't have quite the super deal on the hairclips this time so I didn't buy more as I had planned to do, but I did pick up a bracelet for myself. The Gig showroom has good lingerie from Calvin Klein, JLO, etc. for a decent price. $5 samples are much better than what's sold at Victoria's Secret at the same price. They had good socks too; I picked up a pair of tights that I've been wanting for winter for $3. However, even that showroom had a significantly less impressive array of samples than a few months ago.

The California Mart was our last stop, since we were tired and most showrooms were closing at that point. We were quite "clothes'd out" by then, so we mainly wandered around looking for non-apparel gifts. We found some really cute stationary and candles for $1-2 each.

All in all, we spent a lot of money, but it was a productive day since we shopped mainly for others and not waste money on ourselves. I'm still not done with Christmas shopping, but at least I took care of a good chunk of it--much better than having to freak out after my finals are done. By then I'll need sleep, not more worries.

Comparison Shopping for Designer Fashions

Lots of price comparison search engines are out there these days, such as Pricegrabber and MySimon. Still, they're no panacea--the stores being compared are limited to some big-name retailers and a few small ones. Lots of e-merchants are missing in the mix, especially for emerging designer fashions. Therefore, it's going to take a lot of work on your part to get the best deal.

If you're complete clueless on where to begin, the first stop should be online fashion editorial sites and hard-copy fashion magazines. They'll point you to some popular e-tailers like Shopbop and GoClothing, where you can start ooh-ing and ahh-ing over some beautiful clothes. Some of those sales bins have pretty good deals. Editorial sites also introduces us to designers we've never heard of but make fabulous clothes (perhaps useful for eBay searches). Another great thing about these sites is that they often have exclusive coupon codes that saves you a pretty penny. However, don't rely solely on publications. Some of them get paid through advertisements or other deals unknown to the public, so there may be a bit of conflict of interest there.

This second step sounds incredulous and time consuming, but here it is: go to Yahoo! and Google directories for shopping>>women's apparel/shoes/whatever else you're looking for. There are tons of stores that the good people at editorial sites may not have heard of, and new stores pop up all the time. Why search through both directories? Well, I've found that while much of the listings overlap, parts of them do not. Go through the listings one by one (you can try looking at 10 a day) and see if you like them. If so, save it under your browser's favorites list. I divided my list into 4 tiers, depending on how good their sales sections are. The ones that have the cheapest and most interesting stuff are in the 1st tier, while stores that have interesting things but are not cheap land at the bottom tier. Additionally, you can categorize them however way you want--by shoes, accessories, etc. It helps to get organized because there are literally hundreds of online stores, and it's easier if you split them up than to start the directory search each time you want to find your favorite store. I check the sales bins of the tier 1 stores much more often then the ones in the bottom tier.

Finally, despite how fabulous search engines are, not all stores are in the directories. Some of these "lost stores" are captured by editorial sites (yet another reason why they're useful), but others fall through the cracks. Once you know who your favorite designers are, do a Google search to find more e-tailers. I remember doing a search for "Louis Verdad" and "sale," which turned up stores that weren't on the Google directory. Again, add the store onto your list if it's even remotely interesting to you. There were times when I didn't bookmark one and regretted it later.

Once you've completed your list, sit tight until you need to buy something. When the time comes, just go compare your bookmarked sites one by one for your potential purchase. That way, you'll only have to sift through 10-30 stores as opposed to 100+, or worse yet, succumb to the high prices of the site you thought was the only place that sells such things. It pays to do your homework.

Well, I have finals for the next few weeks, which means I'll be on hiatus again. Happy shopping!


Christmas Shopping: Proceed with Caution (a short Part III)

If you've snagged deals at Black Friday sales, get out you receipts now. If you haven't braved the crowds yet, pay attention now to avoid a return trip. The stores you thought you knew and love may have become less lovable because they may have changed some policies for the holidays, namely return/refund policies. Over the years, retailers are getting less and less generous. Some stores that used to offer no questions asked returns have cracked down just for the holiday season. Stores like Express tracks how many times you return stuff--if you've cracked the limit, they ain't taking anything back.

Black Friday shoppers--before you become too smug with your bargain basement purchases, think about what you've bought. Are they things listed explicitly on someone's wish list, or is it something you *think* your niece/nephew/third cousin/long-lost uncle would like? To avoid loss of funds and/or your standing as someone's favorite relative, think hard and fast now. You may still have time to change your mind and recoup your hard-earned cash.

If you haven't done much shopping now, a crappy return policy is a good reason for strategic planning (aforementioned in Part I). Before you buy, ask about the policies.

Big Lots bargain finds--DVF luggage

I skipped out on the crazy Black Friday morning sales this year. I figured that by the time I get to a store, even if it's the crack of dawn, most of the good stuff would be gone. I was right--my dad went to Circuit City and couldn't find anything.

I found some good Diane von Firstenberg luggage and travelling totes for a very decent price. The travelling totes and train cases were $30, duffels at $40, and upright luggages at $50-60. The blue-suede-with-white-trim totes were so cute that I was tempted to buy one, but since I'm not about to go travelling in style any time soon, I wisely decided to put it down. Good prices could be found for bath products as well. Very fancy looking stuff for a very affordable price (anywhere from $3-$10). If you're into this kind of stuff, check out your local Big Lots. You just might find good luggage there.

Normally the 99 Cent Store is my first stop for gift wrapping paper and Christmas cards, but for some reason, my local store is really disappointing me with the quality of stuff this year. Not just holiday goods, but everything in general. So sad...I ended up getting some cards and wrapping paper there, but only because I've already hit several other places and couldn't find what I was looking for.


Christmas Shopping: Proceed with Caution (Part II)

On Friday, many people will be busy doing their Christmas shopping for their friends and family. When the prices are so good, they'll also inevitably buy some "Merry Christmas to Me" presents. It's fine and all if the prices are good and it's what you really need, but please don't buy things merely because they're good quality and on sale. Impulsive sales purchases will stimulate our GDP, but will hurt big in the long run (credit card debt, bankruptcies, etc).

Before you head to the malls and other major retailers, do an inventory of your closet. Take a look at what you have, what you need, and you have a "what I want" column on your checklist as well, really sit down and think whether it'll go with anything in your closet. If you don't do these things, you'll probably waste money by buying more of what you already have and stuff that you'll never wear. If you're travelling and can't physically do a count of what's in your closet, just take some time to think about it. It's better to do that than walking into the mall unprepared, falling prey to all those "sale" signs.

Also, set a limit to how much you're giving to yourself. We may get carried away by justifying our purchases with "it's great value," "I'll buy it down the road anyways," etc. While it's true that you may be getting significant savings now, cash is still being spent and the threat of debt is much more imminent than the joys of dressing up. If the item is significantly discounted but still expensive, don't buy it if you won't be using/wearing it in the foreseeable future. Save that money up for an even better dress when you actually need it. Also, even if something is of good quality, it'll do you no good if it's not something you'll use. Keep that in mind when you shop.

Have a Happy Turkey Day!


Christmas Shopping: Proceed With Caution (Part I)

We all need to prepare for onslaught of Christmas sales that are slowly creeping upon us. It's nice to save money on gifts, but don't blindly surrender yourself to the siren call of those "Sale" signs and prices. It's very easy to go from saving money to losing lots of it if you're not careful. Part I of this series is on shopping preparations.

Before you embark on your shopping expedition, really sit down and plan things out.
-First, make a list of people you need to get gifts for.
-Second, think about what to get for each person.
  • Set a budget for each person.
  • If a person has let it be known that he/she likes Widget V. 2.0 and you can afford to buy that, that's great, problem solved.
  • However, if Widget V. 2.0 exceeds your budget, think about alternatives. In order to do that, think about that person's personalities and interests. From that, think of a number of specific items that might fit the bill. It's good to have a list instead of just one product, since you want to be flexible when you hit the stores. The exact thingus you want might not be available or may be too expensive, so having backups is important. Also, you might want to consider bundling a few cheap items together. Having a bundle of cheaper (but not cheapy) stuff looks more impressive than a dinky yet expensive item.
  • Plan on getting a few gender-neutral extra gifts in case someone unexpectedly gives you something.

-Third, do some "comparative shopping." You definitely want to get the best deals.

  • Do some research online to supplement knowledge gleaned from Black Friday print ads. Sites such as BargainsLA provide information on sales at smaller local retailers and wholesalers that don't necessarily advertise in newspapers.
  • Just because something is on "sale" doesn't mean it's the lowest price possible. I heard that some sneaky vendors actually mark things up.
  • Some sales items are not of the best quality, especially clothing. The name-brand label may be there, but not the name-brand quality if it's a "special value" secondary line. Some things may have started out as high-quality, but with rough handling from the crowd, things might change. When you get to the store, don't forget to inspect the merchandise thoroughly.
  • Certain stores may have some superlow price on one item just to lure you in to make you pay higher prices for other things, so don't be fooled. Keep this in mind for the next step.

-Fourth, figure out how many things you can get at each store and plan a schedule. Since certain items are available at the superlow price for just a few hours, and because crowds = parking problems, you need to plan wisely. There's no time to fly from one location to another.

  • A balancing test may be involved--ask yourself how important it is to get a particular item, if you're willing to get one expensive item for cheap at the expense of not getting 3 things, or vice versa. That'll determine retail locations to hit.
  • Make it a team effort. If your family has more than one car, send people to different places to get different things. Have multiple people in each car--you just know there will be a lot of circling the parking lot looking for a space, so have one person drive and the other(s) getting dropped off to shop.

-Finally, don't forget online stores. If you can get stuff online, it'll save you a lot of time. That will maximize the chance of scoring stuff that are only available at brick-and-mortar establishments.


Wild Herds in Aisle Nine

I survived the BCBG annual warehouse sample sale today. This year is definitely crazier than last year. I actually went much earlier this time and the line was much longer. Good thing I had a friend who had friends who got there earlier. Hence, it didn't take very long before we got inside, but once there, all hell broke loose. Seeing the chaos, we scheduled to meet outside in 2 hours. In the end, those 2 hours weren't enough, since it took an hour just to wait in line for the cash registers.

Time constraints made me much more efficient, but still, in the beginning, the chaos dashed my plan in pieces. Having my heart set on getting suits, I went looking for them. But suits were hard to find, especially with throngs of people around and things not very clearly marked. Once I found the jackets, my mantra became "grab now, match later"--that is, matching the tops with bottoms that I could grab. I couldn't find any matching bottoms since all the small sizes are either nonexistent or gone. Still, at $25 a pop, the blazers were cheap. I ended up buying 2 of them in neutral colors that will be easier to match in the near future.

The next big-ticket item I homed in on were dresses. Again, all the petite sizes were gone from the racks. After that, I went for the less coveted basic pieces. Then I circled back to the sorting area where people who grabbed too much come to their senses and let some go. That's where I picked up a really nice dress. I also picked up a small chiffon top and a matching skirt. The skirt was really funky--one of those corkscrew types, with stuff hanging down. At first, I wisely decided against it, but while I was waiting in line, I saw one abandoned on the racks, so I ended up buying it. That's probably the least practical piece of clothing I had out of the 6 pieces I ended up buying.

The checkout line is a funny place. While standing in line for an hour just to pay, I realized how much cash was going to leave my wallet, so I abandoned a few items on the rafters above. However, as I progressed further down the line, I picked up a few other things (a blazer and that corkscrew skirt, a pair of shoes). I got to talking with people I was standing in line with, and we were appalled by the amount of good clothing strewn all over the ground, prime for trampling. One lady told me that she saw a person dragging her bag on the ground, didn't realize that halfway through the bag tore away along with the contents, and when she did, she found a group of women closing in on the torn bag and picking off the pieces. She actually had to fight people off. I don't know how many levels of hearsay this is, but that goes to show you that during these crazy sales, people can become wild animals. While I haven't personally witnessed any animalistic behavior, this was definitely a crazy sale. I ended up spending just shy of $200, but most of the things are very practical--3 jackets/blazers, 1 chiffon top, 1 chiffon skirt (not all that practical), 1 pair of leather shoes, 1 dress. The most expensive item is a really nice $45 dress. I was a little pissed that my friend's satin ballgown-type dress was considered a "dress" at $30 and mine was a "gown" at $45. I'm not sure that it's worth the $480 that's on the price tag, but it's certainly worth my $45, despite my grumbling that it's not $30.

The sale is still on tomorrow, but I doubt that a whole lot is left. If you're willing to go at your own risk, check out BargainsLA.com for the address. Then again, even on the first day, there's little to be found because things are so chaotic. Maybe I'll go later next year to avoid the craziness.

Bottom line: when going to crazy sales, strategize ahead of time. Know what you need, what you don't really need, what sizes of which brand fits, etc. When you prioritize, you'll have a better chance of scoring what you really want. Even if you don't get the things lower on your wishlist, you won't really lose out. Get a friend or 2 to go along with you to save a place in line, but make sure you have plans to meet at a certain time to check in with each other just in case you all get dispersed by the crazy crowds. Wear comfortable shoes--there's a lot of walking and standing, so it's no time to look really cute and trendy in your 3-inch heels and miniskirt. That would have been appropriate for Melrose or Robertson, but you're shopping at a warehouse, for goodness sakes! If you'll be in line early in the morning, layer your clothes because it warms up really fast once the sun comes up.

If you want cheaper BCBG clothes without the madness, there are other ways. Go to BCBG outlets, liquidation stores, and eBay. It won't be as crazy-cheap as the warehouse sale, but it's not all that much more expensive. At least you get to try things on, have time to think about it, and not run the risk of getting trampled the moment you put something down. As for eBay, avoid getting things from sellers shipping from China. Those seem to be a little sketchy.


Christmas shopping saga part II--Classic Closeouts

This is the second time I ran into the FedEx guy on the run--last time it was right when I got home, this time it's right when I was leaving my apartment. I had to wait until the end of the day before opening the package. I have to say that I'm quite disappointed with many of the purchases.

First, I take issue with the marblelized stone nugget drop necklace. Yes, it does look good--not nearly as good as the picture, but it's probably because of the ugly plastic packaging--and it's only $5.99, but the green one (as pictured) has a terrible clasp. It took a lot of finger strength to pry the gated side open so that I can take the ring side out. At least the one I bought for someone else (in apricot) has a better clasp.

Second, I was ticked off by the Adidas boy's mesh shorts. At $5.49, they are a steal. However, they don't work very well as gifts. The pair I got has no tags on them, and the label inside had a cut on it--typical of clearance outlets, but not with things I've bought from Classic Closeouts, hence the surprise/discontent. The shorts themselves looked OK, but they're a bit sheer; a little more lining could have helped. There are also these weird slanted cut-outs at the hem serving as side vents, parallel to the Adidas stripes. It's barely good enough to be a Christmas present. At this point, I don't care. I'm too busy and too broke to do more shopping for the kids.

Finally, my biggest disappointment is this lamp. I bought it because I needed another light source for my desk. It looks really cool. At $19, the price is right. However, the moment I started putting the lamp together, I saw trouble. The lamp shade was kinda flimsy. The metal pole and socket assembly was also a bit flimsy; the added weight from the lamp shade causes the pole to twist and turn. I put in a regular light bulb and it was nowhere as bright as the picture represented. Took that lightbulb out and put in one of those brighter energy saving bulbs, but as I tightened the light bulb into the socket, the whole socket assembly twisted loose and fell apart. I managed to put everything back together, but it was clear that whoever was assembling it didn't do a very good job tightening the screws and whatnot. It's so Ikea-quality that it's not worth the $90 retail price that was listed. However, it's more of a hassle to send it back, so I'll just milk it for as long as I can as an additional lamp for the living room.

Another minor gripe is that the lid of my new storage jar has a ding on the lid. However, it's not really noticeable and doesn't affect functioning, so that didn't get me too irritated.

There are a few things I was happy with. The Adidas adult Climalite top (XL) was perfect, with tags and all. The packaging is again quite ratty, but I can remove it. A $3 pair of silver-disk drop earrings look great, and it would have looked even better if not for the packaging. The marblelized bracelets were lovely.

So, here's the lesson of the day: packaging is the key. Remove the plastic packaging material used for shipping (but not the original packaging, if included), check the quality, take off those "Made in China" stickers or tags, then repackage it in a nice box with tissue paper, good wrapping paper, and all the trimmings. No one would ever know they were under $10.


Christmas Shopping Saga Part I--Yak Pak

It's been 2 crazy weeks of school culminating in the completion of a 25-page paper, and yet, these coming 2-3 days are even more critical. Since I'm fairly burnt out, I need some breathing time before finishing a 33+ page paper AND work on another assignment, and hence this post. Adding to the stress are the impending holidays...my goodness, I can't believe Thanksgiving and Christmas are just weeks away! Usually I'd get most of my Christmas shopping done by now, but because of the chaos this semester, I'm way behind schedule. If I had the money, shopping on a short notice (i.e. days before Christmas) wouldn't be a problem. But since I've always been poor (and especially now that I'm 100K in the hole), I don't have that luxury. Yeah, there are sales, but it's still hard to get nice things for cheap. That's why I shop for things so early.

To make things easier and to save more money this year, I decided to get accessories for most people, since it doesn't require going to the store (or multiple stores) to try things on, etc. I got a bunch of bags from YakPak.com that arrived just a few hours ago. I've been eyeing YakPak's specials for a long time and knew that it could come in handy someday. Well, this is the time. They have a "3 bags for $10" sale where you get 3 random things that were made as development prototypes; some never made it to final production, but judging from the array of cool things available for sale on their site, I was willing to bet that even the "rejects" should be pretty decent. There's also a women's footwear "2 pairs for $15" special. These shoes supposedly retail for $100+, but I don't care about the price. Expensive shoes can suck, and sometimes cheap shoes look great. No, this random shoe special doesn't mean you'll get a size 10 and a size 5--you get to choose the shoe size. Since there's free shipping for $35 and over, I decided to order 2 random bag packs and 1 random shoe pack. I figured that if I order now, I'll get to see how "random" these things are, whether they work well as gifts, and if not, at least have some time to assess what else I need to buy.

Shipping was fast. I ordered the stuff maybe 3 or 4 days ago, checked the website, which kept saying that shipping was pending, and was surprised by the UPS delivery guy who showed up today with my package. I unpacked all the goodies, and boy, the bags are definitely a good deal. I really like this blue tote bag--well-constructed and durable, has a zipper on the top, and plenty of external pockets (like the ones in the front) where you can stuff additional things, albeit less securely. The zipper was a bit stubborn at first, but after a few zips, it was fine. As much as I like the tote bag and wanna keep it, I keep on asking myself what I'm going to do with it. I have lots of canvas tote bags as it is. Oh well, I'm sure it'll come in handy someday.

Wrangler makes bags? I didn't know until today. Maybe it's part of the brand's "comeback," along with the likes of Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt. The white, no-frills canvas purse is pretty standard, great for a casual summer event. I like that it doesn't announce itself as "cowgirl." Even the huge "W's" are tasteful and not a dead giveaway. The "Wrangler" label is fairly small and discrete. This will be going to a cousin who likes all things country. As for the messenger bag, it's mine, all mine. My laptop, in its protective sleeve, fits into it perfectly. I've been looking for some kind of a backup laptop bag so that I don't have to lug around my backpack on days when I don't feel like it. The only problem is that the flap has no fastener, so it's just hanging loose. Not a big deal, though...I'll just tuck it in, which is even better because it hides the "Wrangler" tag. The pockets on the side of the bag are really cute, too. They have the "W's" on them like the white purse.

The Dickies bags are great. The Hawaiian print is very girly and cute...I know exactly who to give this to. My only complaint is that it's a tie enclosure, no zippers = not very secure. Still, it's good for a casual outing where crowds (and pickpockets) are not a problem. Small gray purse is very standard and goes with everything, plus it's durable and won't get dirty. The green mini-duffle is definitely a time saver for me. I've been racking my brains for what to get a 13-year-old guy, since I'm too busy to pay attention for what's "cool" to kids nowadays. It's always tougher to get stuff for guys on a budget. This bag is perfect for vacations, when you just want a smaller bag to put CD's, snacks, a pack of cards, PS2, or toiletries for the car but don't want to lug around a big duffle. The olive green makes sure it won't be ridiculed as a "man bag."

The great deals on the bags make up for the shoes. The shoes are just one step shy of hideous, and I'm saddled with 2 pairs of them (I was expecting them to be different, like the bags). The fact that the tags on them had Japanese on the back suggests that they were made for the Harajuku crowd. I don't get the side ruching AT ALL; it just makes the shoes look old, wrinkled, and worn. Still, I think I can make it work in spite of the bowler/skater look. I'll probably donate the second pair, since I'll lose money on them if I Ebay it. There are people who really need shoes, and even though these aren't the greatest, they fit well and serve their purpose. If for some reason you actually like them, they fit true to size with a little extra room (but not so much that you should size down).

On another note, I also bought some cool jewelry from Classic Closeouts that I'll be "packaging" together, but it'll take a while for them to get here, so we'll see what happens.

Addendum: after seeing my purchases, my friend also got 2 YakPak specials. They're great too! I'm willing to surmise that the quality of the surprise specials is consistently good.



A lot of folks are quite crazy about Stella McCartney's clothes lately. While I wasn't enchanted with her earlier collections, I'm quite impressed with what she has been cooking up. Recently mere mortals have (or had, before they sold out) the opportunity to get the look without the sky-high prices with her H&M and Adidas collections. I love how the workout clothes look, and even the rock-climbing shoes look great. Even though they are only $20-30 more than others on the market, I have some doubts on their actual performance. If they ever go on sale, I'd totally considering buying a pair (the soles of mine are starting to get un-glued, so at least I've got an excuse =) ).

There are ways to get some genuine ready-to-wear-collection-quality stuff for less. So what if they are a season behind? With layering and so forth, it's easy to carry Spring/Summer pieces to the Fall, and even Winter. Come on, you know during the winter the indoors gets a little too warm at times. Under those circumstances, you can take off those sweaters and coats and show off your pretty clothes. Of course, being a part of a designer collection, things aren't going to be cheap. But the markdown is so significant that it's worth it if you need a piece or that stands out.

Yoox is a good place for marked-down Stella McCartney pieces. If you're lucky, you just might find something your size. They have some skinny-legged pants which are all the rage now for $75 instead of $360. (See, "that's sooo last season" doesn't apply here). Some clothes look work-worthy while others are loose and casual. Arguably, $75 is a pretty good deal than something of an equivalent price at Express, which is not nearly as high-quality. Until I start making money, however, I'll stick to Ross and Smartbargains, but I'm definitely keeping this e-tailer in mind.

Scoop NYC is also a great source for Stella apparel. Too bad I didn't have time to write about this before it was gone, but they had some scrunched-up gray skinny-legged jeans for $108--at least 75% off. Skinny leg styles don't look good on me, but the updated versions can look good for the right person. When I was driving around town, I saw a girl crossing the street wearing those jeans. They actually looked pretty good on that girl, even though I wrote it off when I saw the picture. There isn't much stuff left on the site now except for overpriced casual tops, but I did find this camisole to be intriguing. At $159, it comes close to breaking the bank, but it doesn't bankrupt you like the $795 original price tag would. Only available in black and size 44, but it's really elegant. If you don't see anything you like now, check back once in a while.

Starbucks coffee beans for less

With the deadline for my appellate brief coming up verrry soon, I'm relying a lot more on coffee to stay awake and focused. I've been using my espresso machine for about a month and a half now, but until this week, I haven't been able to pull that perfect espresso shot. As a beginner, I opted to perfect my technique with cheaper French roast beans from Ralphs at $5.99. It tastes great when mixed with milk and chocolate syrup, but I had a hard time getting that perfect "crema."

Since I ran out of beans, I had to go get some more. This time Starbucks beans was on sale for $7.99, 2 bucks off from original price. The quality of coffee served at Starbucks isn't as good as it used to be (read: overrated), but I thought their beans should at the very least be better than the Ralphs store brand. Since I like my coffee to have a robust flavor, I went with the Sumatra blend. It was definitely worth the extra $2. The first time I used the beans, I got that beautiful layer of crema. I just might go back to get another bag of a different blend before the sale ends on Tuesday.

If Starbucks beans is this good, the ones from Peet's and Coffee Bean should be even better. In my opinion, Coffee Bean serves much better coffee-to-go, and judging from espressos from my former boss' espresso machine, Peet's roasts them good. I hope those go on sale at one time or another.


Downtown LA Sample Sales

Tomorrow is the last Friday of the month, which means it's time for sample sales again in the showrooms of California Market Center (California Mart) and the New Mart. They are across the street from each other. I've gotten some very cheap and very cool stuff there, and yes, there is quite a bit of stuff for guys too (they just don't know about it unless their girlfriends drag them there). If you're a soon-to-be first-timer, there are certain things you need to know.

Sample sales happen the last Friday of every month, except months with special "market days." The Cal Mart website has a list of sample sale days. I have no idea about New Mart, but they've been open every time I went. Even then, many showrooms will be closed. It'll be pretty obvious which ones are open for business.

Before you go, familiarize yourself with the floor plan of Cal Mart. With New Mart, everything are cool and it's small enough a building that it's not a problem, but Cal Mart is HUGE. It pays to know which floors contains clothes you'd want. Floors and subdivisions are grouped by what they sell, so if you know ahead of time what floors you'll hit, you'll save a lot of time.

Knowing different designer brands and how they fit you is the key to being an efficient shopper. If you like a particular designer, search the Cal Mart and New Mart websites for those showrooms. Who knows? They just might be open when you go. Furthermore, when you know what size fits you, you can just go through stuff hanging on the racks more quickly and efficiently. Knowing the "magic number" means you won't have to try on every piece, which saves lots of time.

Wear either spandex workout clothes or a big skirt, and wear comfortable shoes you can slip out of easily. Why? Well, part of the sample sale experience is that there are no dressing rooms. Your skirt is your curtain.

Bring a big tote bag with you. Most of the stores don't have bags.

These sample sales are cash only, and things range from $5 up to about a hundred. I've heard that there are ATM's around, but since the area is not exactly great as far as security goes, I usually wouldn't want people to see how much money I've withdrawn. Besides, limiting the amount you bring with you will keep you from going overboard. $50-75 is a good amount, but plan on keeping the lid at $50. Use that "extra" cash only there's something that you *really* have to get. With the excellent prices, it's easy to go overboard, so the best way to prevent that from happening is to make cash your limiting factor.

Street parking is limited to an hour, and parking lots can get expensive. Either bring a shopping buddy along, suck it up and pay, or take public transportation. There's a DASH line E that runs through the heart of Downtown LA to the Fashion District. The Los Angeles/9th is the stop to get off at. The wait for the return trip really sucks, though, so bring some water and snacks in your purse.

Start at the top floors and make our way down. It's bad enough to wait for elevators; unless you want a workout, it's worse to wait multiple times or make it up the stairs. However, if there's a particular showroom with stuff that you like, hit that one first. In the New Mart lobby, there are handouts listing showrooms open for sales, but they aren't necessarily accurate. The list is now available online. Certain popular showrooms like Juicy often has long lines, so if you get there earlier, you'll have a better chance of scoring good deals.

Before you buy, check the garment for quality. Good proxies for quality are the seams, lack of holes, feel of the fabric, etc. Remember that "samples" mean "samples"--they are just models and often times they are inferior to the final product, but a lot of times they are good enough for $5, and the quality is probably still better than a $5 shirt you'd find at Wal-Mart. One major thing to look for is the word "sample" written or stamped onto the garment. A lot of times that's why it's $5; if it's visible, you probably wouldn't want to wear that out on the streets. If there are defects, you'll have to decide whether it's worth it, even if it's cheap. If the "sample" stamp isn't visible, sure, why not? If it's missing buttons, that's easy to fix. If there's a very small hole that's not readily visible to other people, you might be able to do something about that. However, there are also lots of obvious no-no's like tears in chiffons or sequins falling off, and unless you're really good with the sewing machine, just put it down and walk away. It'll probably cost you more to fix it than it's worth.

If you're buying multiple or expensive items, haggle. A lot of times they'll lower the price just a tad. If you need some moral encouragement, keep your ears open for the sounds of haggling. If someone else does it, you can follow up on their act. Look at it this way: if it doesn't work, fine, but when it does, at least those extra few bucks of savings covers parking/transportation. Don't be shy...what have you got to lose?


Following up on yesterday's post

I actually found something from the Bloomies website that's cute and affordable. White sandals scream "summer," but these have enough funky patterns on it such that it's cute all ear round. Too bad they don't have any in my size, but for a sales item (now $30, retail was $80), the range of remaining sizes are quite good. There are also Ugg-styled boots in different colors (I like the burgundy) for $30 in sizes 5 or 10. Uggs are horrible with miniskirts a la Kirsten Dunst, but I can't disagree that they are quite warm and practical for the winter. A little color helps cheer things up, too. There are also a few "deals" for expensive handbags, relatively acceptable prices for some suits and Lacoste casual summer tops and bottoms, but other than that, nothing else is cheap.


Expensive Stores as Bargain Hunting Grounds

As far as budget shopping goes, conventional wisdom and instinct tell us to forget about Neiman Marcus or Bloomies because those places are clearly for people of a higher income bracket. Most of the time, this holds true. I've never found anything affordable on sales racks at Bloomies, rarely at Nordy's, and 80% successful at Macy's. Therefore, I've never bother stepping foot into Neiman Marcus or Saks. Even if there are sales, stores of that caliber tend to clear out old stuff (which land in places like Loehmann's) to make way for the new because they have a reputation to protect. They're purveyors of luxury goods, not outlet stores; mere mortals need not shop or browse lest they want to get kicked out for badgering celeb customers.

However, the forbidding image of such establishments is exactly why those stores have bargains left for those without much disposable income. Generally, people who shop there are well-heeled and tend to have discriminating tastes. Since there aren't that many people who can afford fine apparel at sky-high prices, these stores may end up overstocking and have lots of goodies left at the end of the season, or even before the end of the season. We know how fickle the fashion world is. Things that are immediately popular has to be moved in right away to keep the wealthy customers, which means clothes that don't sell as well but are still in-season have to go somewhere. Of course, this only applies to certain stores, and it is often hard to predict which stores subscribes to my theory. But once you figure out which one fits the bill, you can sore big.

Take Kenneth Cole as an example. Even though Kenneth Cole is in the "low to mid-range" price bracket (depends on who you talk to), full-priced items are definitely beyond my reach. I've snagged or seen a few bargains online, particularly at Macy's, Classic Closeouts, and Smartbargains. A few months ago I walked into a Kenneth Cole boutique store on a whim. I figured, since it's the end of the season, there just might be good deals. It turns out I was right. Sure, prices were not super low ($20-30 for tops and some bags), but the goods are certainly affordable compared to the $100 or up price bracket, especially for work-worthy tops and bottoms. I didn't buy anything there that day, but my friend did (and she usually wouldn't shop at boutiques either).

For Neiman Marcus, I don't know if they have good deals in the brick-and-mortar store, but their Last Call section of the website certainly does. You can save up to 75% for things that can be worn year after year, if not year-round. This Juicy Couture velvet top fits right in with several fall trends--it's black (yes, black is the new black, blah blah blah) and it's velvet. At $38, it's certainly more affordable than when it sold for $150. Still not cheap, but considering that velvet is a fairly luxurious fabric, the price is certainly reasonable. Heck, Juicy sells terry cloth stuff for $40 at sample sales. I'm not a fan of ruffled babydoll tops, since they don't hug curves at all, but it has a pretty bow in the back and I see great prospects as a miniskirt for a holiday party. A lot of other designer stuff are also mid-priced--again, not exactly cheap by my book, but certainly affordable. I'm willing to spend more money on things I wear to work, just not for play.


Tricky treats

Halloween is coming soon, and you might still have time to use some cool Fred Flare clearance party supplies for this Halloween. If not, at least you'll have some really nifty things for your party next year. I like these spikes that you can stick into cookies, cupcakes, or other stuff. Just don't use them for eyeballs.


Fake the Look: Secretary Blouses

Secretary blouses: I don't know whether to like them or hate them. I almost spent $10 on a cute t-shirt glorified by a tie-neck and puffy sleeves, but I thought better of it after reminding myself of how much I dislike the old-fashioned secretary blouse. Today I finally figured out the good, bad, and ugly parts of that thing. The good: I love the chiffon material and the big bow. The bad: the long sleeves and the all-the-way-up-to-the-neck-look. I'm OK with a fitted turtleneck, but a long-sleeved secretary blouse just looks very...how should I say this...balloon-ish. And suffocating. Most of today's styles are fitted, but I've seen a few that are quite repulsive. The ugly: in addition to a big-ass bow, some designers add too many ruffles, ugly patterns, and some other accoutrements to the blouse, which turns the whole thing into one billowy eyesore. Contrast two styles from the L.A.M.B. collection. The white one is great--nice and simple, great details like the swiss dots without being overpowering or overpoofy. The green one...my goodness, what was Gwen thinking?!? The ruching on the side looks great on the white one, but horrible on the green (and boy, the ruching is only the start of what's wrong with the green).

So I figured out a way to get the good and avoid the rest--just fake it. It's another way to make use chiffon scarfs, especially the ones with a funky pattern. I got one from Bebe a while back for $8, and besides using it as a scarf, headband, and sash/belt, I can use it for a bow around the neck. All you need is a fitted blazer and a v-neck top that will be well-hidden by the lapels of the blazer. Just make a bow big enough to come out of your blazer but small enough so that you have plenty of "tail" left to tuck inside for the "hem" of your "blouse." Voila! You get the look without having to spend money on what will surely be a soon-to-be-disposed-of piece of clothing, especially for crazy, spur of the moment patterns. I like pairing the top ensemble with jeans and a pair of sneakers for a more casual look.


Dude, Where's the Sale Section?

Whenever I walk into a brick-and-mortar store, I head straight for the sales racks. The same goes for online shopping--I look out for links like "sale," "clearance," "special," "closeout," etc. However, I've learned that the best deals aren't necessarily listed in the sales section. Instead, they are buried in the midst of full-priced merchandise. Sometimes it might be human error--someone forgot to index the markdowns in a standalone section.

If the site doesn't have a standalone sales section, you might want to start clicking. If the online store is small, it makes sense just to click through all the sections (tops, bottoms, accessories) to see if anything's been marked down. For a store with a big selection, this obviously isnt going to work. In that case, take a "random" sample of a few sections to see if there are any sales items. If you come up empty, chances are sales items don't exist on that site.


Rainy Day Blues, and Greens, and Reds...

I just got home from school and intended to start working on my paper (due tomorrow) right away, but I'm just too bushed. What I really need is sleep, but some downtime by the way of talking fashion is a close second. Anyways, I digress...thunderstorm season is hitting LA. Other than cleaning out the air, the only thing good about the rain is that I finally get the chance to wear my cute Esprit wellies (remember these?). I'm not too fond of the whole jeans in boots trend, but jeans tucked into these babies don't look too bad. Apparently they are available again on the website at a superlow price of $11.70. Get 'em before they're gone!

On the higher end of the price spectrum, I found these funky cowboy boot-style wellies by Tamara Henriques. $90 retail is just too much, and I still won't buy them at $45, but it's priced well considering many cute non-designer rainboots I've seen (other than Target's $19.99 selection) start at $30. For the designer category, I've seen a pair of rather hideous yellow-with-orange-toe Jeffrey Campbell flat cowboy rainboots for $60 (no longer available) and also plain, bright-colored Ralph Lauren wellies for around $30 at Bluefly. At least for an extra $15, you get a fairly unique and well-adorned set of wellies.

If you're a dressy girl and don't want chunky rainboots to ruin the look, there are a couple of options. The ever-popular Sigerson Morrison rain or shine skimmers aren't cheap, but at least you can get them at Go Clothing for $81.25 instead of $125 (also available in purple and green). Maybe I haven't looked hard enough, but I haven't found these things on sale anywhere else. Spending that much money on rain gear is ridiculous, but these shoes are so cute that you can recoup your investment wearing them a lot when it's not raining (in fact, it was designed to do so, hence the name).

Flats aren't going to work for you if you plan to be out clubbing, but I've found some sexy Kenneth Cole T-strap sandals on Bluefly. It's all man-made material and at $35, it's not at my preferred rock-bottom price, but at least the patent leather finish makes it look expensive and unlike real leather strappy sandals, you won't ruin them in the rain. I doubt these shoes were made for rain, but it looks like raindrops will roll right off the surface. Then again, if you really want party shoes at rock-bottom price (that you don't mind ruining), try Target or Payless. However, I think Target shoes last a little longer and in general look trendier. My favorite pair of 3-inch heel sandals from Payless had a crack across the sole after about 2 years of occassional wear, and tennis shoes lasted even less than that.

Stay safe on the road!


For the poor freezing folks outside of Southern California (or for SoCal residents who want to prepare for cold weather)

I felt compelled to come out of my self-imposed exile (which I spent reading) to bring you this important announcement: Classic Closeouts is having an extra discount on their outerwear. Yes, the deals are stellar. Coats that were $50 just weeks ago are now $30. Both men and women can partake in this bounty before it's gone.

If I were a guy, I would want this Kenneth Cole jacket. Even though I don't believe it's worth the $300 retail, it definitely looks good. It's now $30! There's also a shorter version of this jacket, also $30, but I just like longer-lengths. Doesn't look like there's a whole lot left. There's also a heavy wool coat for $30, but I don't think it looks as sleek. It's still utilitarian, and $30 for a wool coat is hard to beat.

For the ladies, this looks like a nice Anne Klein pea coat. The color is bright, and if you like attention, it'll surely make you stand out in a crowd of dark colored coats this winter. Also $30. A caveat--I think the sizes may run big. I bought a long walking coat which did not look as I expected. It was supposed to be x-small, but it was really big on me. The color was a bit of a disappointment...other than the lapels, it was not "charcoal gray" but more like a brown. As you can imagine, the two-toned combo can't be good. Still, I didn't return it because I figured $30 is a good price for a long wool coat. I still have a bit of buyer's remorse (very rare for me), but the coat is warm/utilitarian and I'll try to use accessories to make the best of it. There are also a couple of cute XOXO cropped jackets (in denim or white corduroy) with faux fur collars. Jackets look cute, faux fur not, but if you don't mind the faux fur (and who knows? It might be removable), then it might be a good buy for you. One thing the jackets have going for them is the price--$13 is not bad at all. Even with shipping, that's the price you would have had to pay for something comparable from the Macy's sales rack (I got a denim XOXO motorcycle jacket there for $16).

On hiatus...sort of

In between writing a brief for an imaginary appeal and cranking out my law review paper, I'm gonna have to stay away from shopping (and blogging) for a few weeks. It's so easy to waste time when you're looking at all sorts of pretty clothes, and it takes even longer to talk about them coherently. Hopefully I've dished out enough tips to keep your shopping costs inversely proportional to the amount of stylish clothes you've bagged. Have fun bargain shopping and share the source of your fortuitous finds! Hey, if you can't wear it, be good and let someone else have it.

[Edited to say: a few hours into my self-imposed blogging blackout and I've already broken down my resolve. Let's just say I won't be blogging as regularly, but if there's a good deal, I'll post something. Otherwise I'll be good and get my work done.]

Sold out...

Apparently a few Ella Moss pieces I've mentioned , namely a pink miniskirt, the cream-colored striped top, and v-neck sweater mentioned below, are now sold out. Either someone is actually reading my blog, or a number of us are on the same wavelength. Ah well...


Fall-worthy Ella Moss pieces for $25 and under

I haven't really gotten into the whole designer fashion thing until the last year or so. Before that, I would just buy what I can find off the sales racks of the Gap, BR, department stores, Ross, and the like. With little money as it is, I just don't go to boutiques to scope out indie designer stuff, knowing they are expensive and my time there would be completely useless. But when I started going to sample sales, I slowly began to explore the works of different designers--fabrics, constructions, the look, etc. One thing about these designers is that they are often ahead of the fashion curve, which means if you can score a good deal and choose wisely, you'll be the proud owner of a piece with staying power. Of course, that takes a little bit of an intuition on your part to see if something is just going to be a fad, or to make sure that it's not too fashion-forward that the world can't handle it yet..."sensible" is such a subjective criterion.

Big stripes usually isn't my thing. I like pinstripe pants, but other than that, the only stipped pieces I own are a 5-dollar striped shell from BR and a $15 diagonal-stripped skirt from Nordstrom. However, the Ella Moss take on stripes has won me over. I like this long sleeve cotton-blend cowl neck top for $18, only xs available. The cream color and subtle shadow stripes, along with the cowl neck and bell sleeves, look graceful together.

If we're going to be bundled up in wooly sweaters for the next few months, the sweaters may has well look fun. This one fits the bill. The only one left is large and in pink instead of brown. Even though pink is not the "it" color, I prefer pink over brown because I don't believe in being restricted to dreary colors, especially when it's gray outside. In addition, the stripes and the colorful trim punches things up a bit. V-neck is also good; I always complain about the wool being too scratchy for my neck. For 20 bucks, it's a pretty good deal.

Here's another wool-blend sweater, topping off at $25. I draw the line here because until I make real money, that's all I'm willing to pay for a sweater. The black stripes are a bit glaring and pirate-like, but they don't have any black ones left anyways, just "raffia" and "carbon" (which I'm assuming to be a dark gray). The tie-neck style is really hot right now too, especially with all those secretary blouses. Personally, I'm not too fond of those, but this is a nice funky variation.

Moving away from stripes, here's yet another wool-blend sweater. Even though this picture shows a top with a floral pattern, the only ones left for sale are solid pink. That's good, since I don't like the floral pattern anyways. What I do like is the wrap styling and the fact that it's cropped, which keeps even a floral pattern from looking dated. You can see that the pink goes really nicely with a purple skirt, another "it" color this Fall for anyone who cares about that sort of thing. Looks good for work or play. Not bad for $20.


When to ignore the "dry clean only" tag

When I buy clothes, I try to avoid the ones with the "dry clean only" or "hand wash only" tags. Why? As a busy student, I don't have time or money for clothes that are high maintenance. Besides, people have had wools, satins, and chiffons for years before dry cleaning was invented, so there's no reason why we can't continue those traditions now (to a certain extent). However, sometimes getting the "high-maintenance tags" is inevitable, like suits or that pretty sweater that you can't resist. Here are my takes on when to ignore those tags and when not to.

-For cashmere or wool sweaters, you really don't have to take them to the dry cleaners. Follow the TBF guide to washing cashmere sweaters. When I washed my sweaters, I use a modified version of the guide. If you're really concerned about shrinkage, I suggest you put in a little bit of hair conditioner. [For those of you science types, think of it as a Western Blot--wool is protein, lots of disulfide bonds, nonspecific interactions, etc. Just like we would block a blot with nonfat milk to prevent nonspecific binding, we use hair conditioner for washing sweaters. Without going into thermodynamics, let's just say it helps with the renaturing process and leave it at that.] Since I want to make sure the soap is gone, I do a few more "serial dilutions" by pouring out the soapy water, add in fresh water, squeeze out the sweater, and repeat one more time. When it comes to drying, I would use the towel to help blot out some of the water, but I wouldn't keep the sweater to dry on the towel for long. I would put the sweater on top of a drying rack, turning every so often, because a wet towel would only impede the drying process. Having air pass through is better.

-Silks are going to shrink when exposed to water. That happened to one of my silk tops, but I didn't mind because it actually fits me better now. That also happened to my friend's silk top when she accidently got a drop of water on it. Again, silk is protein (alpha helices/beta sheets...I don't even remember anymore). The hair conditioner method might work based on theory, but try it at your own peril.

-For things made of cotton, like one of my twill skirts, dry cleaning is just silly and an obvious waste of money. Get one of those (I don't know what they're called) bags from K-mart or Asian discount stores (I've noticed that places selling Japanese things have them for cheap). They are basically bags made of nets with zippers so that your delicate things won't get tangled up with other clothes. That's what I do with a bulk of things marked "hand wash only" and they are fine. I just have to reshape them a bit when I air-dry them.

And now it's time to state the obvious:

-Leather--everyone knows you don't clean them at home.

-For really expensive coats and suits, it's better to err on the side of caution and take them to the dry cleaners. I wouldn't risk ruining my investments. Sure, "dry clean" stuff could be cleaned with gasoline (remember hearing about that?) because it's another organic solvent like the ones they use at dry cleaning places, but I would rather not chance the embarrassment of having the fire department or hazmat teams come out in case of mishaps. Besides, the wrong solvent can change the color of your garment altogether. Streaks on blazers may look hip, but they won't get you a call-back interview or a job.

It's finally cooling down = Cashmere sweaters

If wearing your summer clothes in October isn't a sign of global warming, then I don't know what is. Anyways, LA weather is finally cooling down. While I was glad to be able to milk more mileage out of my clearance finds, it's good that Fall weather is here. For the past 8 weeks, I had to contend with dressing for 90 degree weather while bringing a sweater or jacket just for being indoors (yes, the AC turned classrooms into completely different climate zones).

I love my new cashmere sweater. For $30, I got an amazingly good deal. Apparently the sweater was from Trina Turk's resort collection, and the only place I found it online is the Lena K boutique, in aqua blue (mine is a light peach), medium, and a hundred bucks more than I paid for it (down from original retail of $198). I don't care about what season it's from because it's so simple but pretty; it's one of those timeless pieces that I'm sure will last me a long time.

A caveat about buying cashmere sweaters--don't buy it online unless you know exactly how it looks and feels, which could be ascertained in a retail store. When I bought my sweater, the tags for the size and contents were cut out because it was a charity sale. I found another sweater that looked exactly the same but in a bigger size to see what it's made out of, but even before finding a tag (on that other sweater) that said it was 100% cashmere, I knew what I picked up was quality stuff. All you have to do is feel it--it should be very smooth and very soft. Try touching a couple of pure cashmere sweaters to get the feel...it's actually quite instinctive. If you're going to plunk down a couple hundred dollars to get a cashmere sweater, make sure it's worth it first. Keep in mind that just because it's uber-expensive doesn't mean it's good, and conversely, just because it's an expensive product doesn't mean you have to pay a lot. Although my $30 sweater is an anomaly, I've seen $50 cashmere sweaters and wraps at one of the New Mart showrooms. They were definitely the good stuff.

If you find a good one in a brick-and-mortar store but it's full price, note the brand, exact model, etc., just as you would for a car, then do an online search. When you can find an out-of-state online boutique that also has a coupon code, you can avoid paying tax and get a good discount. Many places has reasonable shipping fees or, better yet, free shipping with a minimum purchase, so you won't be trading a small sales tax for a big extra fee. Oh yeah, make sure you read the label--there are many cashmere-other fiber blends, which are lower in quality and not feel as luxurious. Even though you can certainly feel the difference, reading the label is a good safeguard against expensive mistakes.

Here's a good article from Style Diary on finding a good cashmere sweater. It's a good read, along with other reviews from the site.


Start Your (Christmas Shopping) Engines

Christmas is 2 months away, and it's not a minute too soon to start shopping for Christmas gifts. If you're like me, you'd shop for gifts year round, but I suspect most people aren't like me. I usually troll clearance racks at the end of each season to shop for myself, but I still keep an eye out for gift-worthy things. Department stores have sales every couple of weeks, if not every week, so why is it a good time now?

Well, for one thing, October is closer to the holidays than say January, but at the same time it's still early enough to beat the holiday rush and the accompanying specially jacked-up prices. Sales are not created equal. Yes, there are "holiday sales," but only for certain items so that the Retail Monsters can lure you in to get pricier products. For another thing, summer clearances items are now generally priced at the lowest levels, which means you can maximize the number of gifts you get for people with what little money you've got. In fact, when I went to the mall on Friday, there were some fall stuff going for a good price. A Charlotte Russe, I saw some beautiful, fully-lined, dark blue-green velvet jackets at $20 (half off). There were also summer party tops for $5. Some prices might go down even further in the next few weeks, but if you wait too long, the clearance section would get cleared out for new merchandise.

An added benefit to shopping early is that certain places won't restrict how long you have to return unopened/unworn goods now, but will put on those limitations for things purchased November/December. If you're really concerned about what your gift recipients think about having a gift receipt dated months before December, just don't attach the gift receipt to the gift. Instead, offer to exchange the item yourself, or ask them to let you know if they want to exchange it so that you can give them the gift receipt. Personally, I don't think there's any shame in shopping early. December or March, the goods are the same. The only difference is the cash you lose for the former.

That said, there are some pitfalls to shopping early. Many stores limit the return period to 30 days after purchase, so if you get the wrong stuff, you're screwed. If you intend to purchase clothes, there's always the risk of getting something that's going to go out of style. Here are some tips to avoid holding the bag. They are equally applicable when it comes to buying Christmas or birthday gifts early.

1) Know who you're buying things for, whether it's your parents, cousins, or friends. Think about their personalities, tastes, and sizes. There are so many times when I go out to buy things for myself and end up seeing things on the shelf that looks "so *insert name here*." If you see it and it's on sale, grab it. Thinking ahead of time not only saves you money, but you'll also get heaps of praises for your thoughtfulness.

2) Get items that are practical, things that anyone can use. Who doesn't appreciate practical gifts? It saves them money because you've already gotten them something they need. I call these "generic" gifts. Things from the "home" section of the store falls into this category. They are nonperishable, not subjected to the whims of fashion, and could be saved for times when you don't have time to buy gifts or when you get things from someone you least expected. Unlike the most practical thing of all--money (in the form of cash or gift cards)--you can often get something really fancy and no one will ever know how little you've spent. Take, for example, a set of 4 small Emeril plates I saw at Rob May. They would have been at least $20, but I got them for $2.50. I gave them to my cousin for her birthday and she absolutely loved them.

3) If you're buying clothes or accessories, get things that are stylish but classic. This is more of an outgrowth of point #2--you want things practical enough that people will make good use out of them. Dress shirts, ties, wallets, or graphic t-shirts for the guys; graphic tees, cute tanks/camis, jewelry, tote bags for the girls.

4) If you're getting clothes, get something that has a greater margin of error for the fit. Tops are fairly easy to get. For guys, when in doubt, get the bigger size. For the girls, fitted is the right style, but make sure the top is stretchy enough so that your gift won't turn into a sausage wrapper (that the poor girl has to squeeze into). Casual jackets and sweaters are also good, since they don't require an exact fit like blazers, but make sure they won't look too frumpy if it turns out to be too big. Don't ever get pants unless you know for sure that it'll fit their intended owner. If you do get pants, track pants/shorts or yoga capris are good candidates; dress pants tend to be really tailored and body-type-specific. For skirts, get something with elastic waistbands or drawstrings and in flexible fabrics--they'll provide some give.

5) If you're getting clothes, try them on first. At one time or another, you and your friends must have talked about what sizes you wear or even borrowed clothes from each other. If a shirt or skirt fits you, there's a high probability that it'll fit a friend of a similar body type. Even if the intended recipient isn't the same body type, your guestimation would be more accurate you know which size fits you.

6) Depending on the situation, it may work better to get several related small items and package them together. If you're getting fashion jewelry, giving away a $2 necklace, even if it's originally worth 10 times as much, looks really cheap even for me. Throwing in another inexpensive but nice item (like one of those $5 sales top from Charlotte Russe, or another piece of jewelry) would make a better gift. Another way is to just get multiple quantities of the same thing. I've packaged 4 very nice 75-cent cups (originally $1.50 each) together and gave them away as a set.

7) If your budget is really thin and can't afford to put together a nice combination, the presentation of your gift goes a long way. Even if it's just a $3 bracelet, putting it in a box with pretty wrapping paper and a fancy bow makes it look like a million bucks. Ikea, Big Lots, and the 99 Cent Store have really nice gift-wrapping supplies.

8) Finally, I would avoid getting stuff that are holiday-specific. If people can only use them for a limited number of days per year, it's not really practical. Besides, by the time you give it to them, they can't use it anymore (which makes your well-meaning intentions impracticable). If you do want to get holiday-specific gifts, make sure the year isn't printed on it.

In the end, it's the thought that counts, not how much you spend. If you can get something nice for $5, why thumb your nose at it?

Now go get 'em! If you got more tips, feel free to share, 'cuz sharing is caring.


For people who like expensive jeans...

...now is the time to hit the ScoopNYC sale. I saw the sale posted on The Budget Fashionista this morning and decided to take a look right away. Fairly good discounts on expensive jeans--at 50% and more. Well, apparently people also got word of it today or something...when I checked just now, practically all of the jeans I saw this morning are gone save for a few. The cheapest pair is the Salt "Mullberry Street" jeans at $26 for sizes 24 and 26. The next cheapest is the Juicy low rise flair trouser (25 and 31) at $35...I now own this as a result of last week's sample sales, and I can say from experience that it's comfy but does run kinda small, so buyer beware.

I have to say I'm not terribly impressed with the summer stuff they have on sale. They do have some pretty nice sweaters that are Fall-worthy, though. For size 10 fashionistas going after the velvet trend, you can spend "full price" cash for heavily discounted designer stuff. There's a really cute Marc Jacobs velvet jacket for $150--what it would have cost to buy a brand new "mid-tier" velvet jacket. Yes, I like the Marc Jacobs look, but even if I have money, I wouldn't buy this design mistake...costs way too much for something that looks like a casual terry skirt.

I guess women, collectively, are more of a sales rack vulture than guys...there are still tons of men's clothes available. Bargain shopping usually isn't an equal opportunity activity--I see a heck of a lot more markdowns for women than for men, perhaps because there's a bigger market and more variety for women's clothes, which results in a lot of merchandise to get rid of at the end of the season. It's fairly rare to see huge markdowns like this for guy clothes (low markdowns usually makes gift shopping more difficult for me), so it's fairly refreshing to know that guys can also partake in the bargain hunting process.

Tee'd off about the prices? Well, you should be

Would you pay $94 for this sleeveless t-shirt? It's actually "on sale." It used to be $188. Sure, it's Iisli and there's a shiny dragon (fairly elaborate handiwork), but is it worth it? Not if you have a student budget, period. Even if you can afford it, the price is not right unless you wear it often enough (and by that I mean more than once a month). Even though I'm cheap, I don't base my decisions on the price tag alone (after all, I *did* spend $60 on a good blazer). The workmanship does count for something; provided that the top is purchased at sale price and gets worn enough times, it'll be "worth it" in the long run.

What about this? Take a guess.

$53.99. On Clearance. It looks like any old white tee to me, and not well-fitted either. What makes the retail price $135? At least the orange sleeveless tee has a pretty design on it...what's this tee's excuse? Probably the small D&G logo on the back, which will never be visible unless you tie your hair up or have really short hair. No matter how often you wear it, it's not going to be worth it, given there are so many alternatives to this particular white crewneck t-shirt.

The Budget Fashionista (TBF) had an online survey over the summer on readers' buying habits. The results are rather fascinating. There was a very wide range of incomes and tastes--some people spend $30 per month on clothing and others spend $1000. The largest percentage of purchases was for accessories and shoes...I thought people would have spent more on actual clothing. The most that people are willing shell out for t-shirts are $25, and survey participants indicated that t-shirts and underwear are what they spent the least on. For me, even $25 is too much for a tee. TBF is right--there's really no need to buy t-shirts that cost more than $20 for a plain T-shirt. Even though she didn't say what's a good limit for printed T's, I don't think it would be more than $35-40, especially if it's just silkscreened. For simplicity's sake, my thoughts for this post are limited to crew neck, short-sleeve t-shirts with nothing printed on it at all. (Embellishments or special cuts really change things--the pricing depends on a number of factors, like what the bells and whistles are, labor costs, technology used, etc. Even so, in most cases, the mark-up is high enough that vendors can still make a profit at clearance time.)

It's funny how a "low-maintanence," "laid-back" style can cost so much. First we get the $200 jeans, and now the $50 tees. Yes, I know that James Perse, C&C, American Apparel, Rebecca Beeson, *fill in your favorite brand* tees are really soft and comfy. For those reasons, I'm willing to pay $15 for a plain, no-frills, short-sleeve tee (yes, it is possible), though it is by no means cheap. $40 for a paper-thin thing, even if it is supima cotton, is simply ridiculous for "casual" daily wear. On top of that, retailers make more money by generating buzz for the layering trend...makes sense, right? What better way to get people to buy more?

American Eagle has tees that are just as soft and have a really flattering fit; when they're on clearance for $6.50, I can get several of them. Heck, I got a soft, sheer Old Navy tee, with a simple print, for $4. If you still want your James Perse tees, wait for clearance time (which starts August/September for summer stuff) to stock up. Since the basic crewneck style is always "in," there's no risk of it going out of style after you buy it. I've seen them go for 50% off or more from time to time on the Nordstrom web site, and I'm sure your favorite boutiques or outlet stores will have them. You can also hit sample sales for them.