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.


What can Brown do for your wardrobe?

Well, we saw what (Michael) Brown CAN'T do for us, but that's a whole different matter. Earthy tones are what Fall clothes are made of. Every year there's a particular color that stands out--I hear that this year it's mustard yellow--but pretty much every earth tone will work. Brown is a particularly versatile color--safe and classy like black, yet less severe and formal.

A couple of pieces from the online version of the $15 Dollar Store are actually pretty good. I didn't like the offerings at the Santa Monica brick-and-mortar store, so I'm surprised there's such good stuff here. But there's a caveat--just because something is cheap and it's a particular brand doesn't mean it's good, since there are some subpar products under the same clothing label. The retail price is some indication of the quality; even though the markup is high solely because of the brand, it can't be *that* high if it's crappy...people aren't stupid.

This Sweetees halter is really cute--I just like this particular sweetheart styling. Simple, yet elegant; the good looks are derived from the simplicity (circular reasoning, I know, but what I meant is that the top manages to look good without relying on embellishment). Instead of tying at the back, the strings come out through the front and you can adjust the ruching. The dangling strings makes it look like you're wearing a long necklace. Too bad this is selling out so quickly--there's only large left. Not worth it at $52, but $15...well, the quality of Sweetees things aren't bad, they tend to be cute and soft, so why not? Even though it's "Fall" already, the weather is weird this year...still quite hot as of this afternoon. A nice zip- or button-front cable knit sweater will keep you warm and still shows off the piece.

BCBG Stretch Slacks--talk about a good price! $15 instead of $98 is a fairly substantial discount. I don't know why the pant pockets look weird here--usually BCBG stuff are pretty fitted. Maybe it's just the manequin. The size 2's are already gone. It's impossible to tell the quality of the fabric, but then again, even cheapy slacks are about that price. Since it *is* BCBG, I suppose that it can't be any worse.

This Hotkiss crochet top is pretty too...being a "junior's" brand, it's arguably lower-end (I certainly wouldn't pay $52 retail on it), but I still like it.

Now for something a little more sensible--a Rampage corduroy blazer. They call this "dark yellow," but it looks golden brown to me. Since my really fitted corduroy blazer, which I got last year from some teenybopper mall store, was $22, this isn't bad at all (about even after the $6.95 shipping). It's definitely something that'll last for years. Only mediums and large's left, though.

Great deals and selections now at the FIDM Scholarship Store

When I first heard all the raves about the good deals at the FIDM Scholarship Store, I knew I had to check it out. The first time I went, the store was under renovation, so the place looked really messy. All I could find was a $5 "damaged" white Doki Geki military-style jacket, but I was quite happy. You see, the "damage" was just missing buttons. That was really easy to fix, and the linen jacket has served me very well. The store now looks fabulous. However, subsequent visits turned up nothing but mostly junk. I was pretty much ready to say "I'll never go there again."

Today, I needed a good belt to replace one that literally fell apart, so I went to the store again since I know they have belts starting at $2. It turns out to be a good day to go. Most of the clothing in the store had an additional 50% discount, including some formal dresses. I certainly scored when I got a pretty embroidered top for $8. There was also a good selection of belts, so I picked up the one I needed for $4. There were other things I wanted to buy, like a perfectly good Forever 21 3/4-sleeved, fitted empire waist fitted top with broad brown stripes. There were also some cute Charlotte Tarantola tops. They were all $6-8! However, having spent all that money last Friday, I wisely decided not to buy anything else.

I didn't pay attention to the one rack devoted to guys' clothes, but from what I saw, they looked pretty good. Some cool dress shirts stood out.

You can read more about the store here. I don't know how long the sale will last, though. I still think the store is junky and "hit and miss" is an understatement, but when the sales are on, there are good deals to be found. It just takes a few trips to score. If you need fabrics, it's a great place to go--great selection with low prices. Another note--street parking is only available until 3pm, so plan your trip accordingly. The meters at 9th and Grand are 25 cents per 10 minutes.

Embellishments--Finding the ones that will STAY trendy

Embroidered, appliqued, or bejeweled denim form an axis of the most wanted styles this Fall. It's just so ironic that jeans have gotten so expensive, given they started out as humble, long-lasting clothing for miners.

Maybe it's just me, but I find embroidery on jeans to be really tacky. If it's done right, some of it running down the side of the legs does look great, but that $300 pair of jeans will be unwearable in about 2 months. The department store imitator brands look even worse (bright-colored embroidery really looks like something my Grandma used to make). Still, I'm sure it'll cycle back into popularity in a few seasons or so. Rhinestones...they're not going to go out of style nearly as fast, and I think it's kinda cute. But it's better to just go to Michael's, buy a pack of little shiny things, get some fabric glue, go home, and do your thing (copy the pocket stitching of your Seven jeans or something if you really care that much for branding). That oughta save you that extra hundred dollars. As for applique all over the pockets--just not my thing at all. Having patches all over the leg looks even worse, and the style is probably going to last even shorter than the embroidery. May as well look in your closet for old linens with cool prints (or colors), make your own patches, and loosely stitch them on your rear pockets. Take them off when the trend is gone.

Now, embroidery on tops makes a whole lot of sense. Tops are meant to be canvases more so than jeans; it's no wonder why embellished T-Shirts sell well and wear well year after year, while jeans with "Von Dutch" printed on them are so gone. Besides, tops tend to be cheaper and more "disposable," if you will. If embroidery trends are waning, you can always keep the top but tone it down with jackets and layering.

Embellishments really bump up the price. If I'm willing to pay that extra price, I want it to last. When I buy embellished tops--embroidered, appliqued, jeweled, silkscreened, you name it--there are several factors I consider in evaluating "timelessness." They're really quite obvious and common sense when you think about them:

-The first is your intuition--that's easy enough. If you like it, you're going to wear it a lot. What celebs are wearing won't necessarily be to your liking or fitting...heck, it probably doesn't even look good on THEM, but somehow fashion mistakes become trends if the victim is famous. The Uggs with miniskirt trend is one example.

-The second is simplicity. A single intricate design is much easier to appreciate if there's plenty of space around it. Contrast that with a mass of designs that are cool but induce sensory overload...hmm...

-The third is the design itself--intricacy indicates good workmanship that will last many washes and always draw attention; minimalist designs are also good because they spice up a basic piece without being too loud. Being simple, they'll always look good. Avoid spending too much on "current event slogans" (like "Free Kate" or "Team Aniston") or brand logos, unless the logo design is cool enough (or the name is obscure enough) that you can still wear them long after the company has gone out of business. Oh yeah, as for faux-fur anything--personally, faux-fur trim looks tacky. Better if it's a detachable part, since you can put it on when it's fashionable and take it off when it's not. Sequins--sparing is good. Too much = Vegas.

-The last one I can think of is the location of the design. If designs are so small or located at places where no one can see them, it's not worth the money. Things at the dead center of your chest or back are very safe. Things placed at more unpredictable places, like the shoulder or sleeve, are very cool and will stay unique for a long time. A somewhat special rule for collars--it's good as long as it isn't too "busy." Remember those shirts with the really big ruffled collars AND cuffs that look like clown suits crossed with pirate garb? No? Probably so hideous that it's part of your repressed memories. The Victorian collars that are popular again are minimally wispy. Cowl necks on sweaters are huge, but they work because the collar drapes in a very simple way.

To illustrate what I mean, here are a few of my own bargain finds:

-"Avion" t-shirt--$5 sample from one of the New Mart showrooms. That's the name of the brand (which I've never heard of), but the name is neutral enough that it could be one of those random phrases printed on t-shirts. I love the color, the airplane, and how the letters (with ragged edges) are stiched on. The collar and sleeves have blanket stitches...not noticeable to people, but I like them (and didn't have to pay that much).

-Sweetees "Indigo" tube top--$10 sample from one of the New Mart showrooms. I have no idea if this is from past seasons or not even on the market yet, since the "delivery date" written on the tag is November. Call me conservative, but I just don't do tube tops (though I have a lovely retro-looking tube dress for more formal events)...except this one. Fitted but not tight, it falls past the hip. The lace trimmings are simple and cute, but it's the off-center applique that really carries the day. Nothing too fancy. I knew it would go well with jeans, but it looks GREAT with light-wash, wide-legged trouser jeans and cute metallic ballet flats. This picture just doesn't do it justice.

-Embroidered sheer tee--$8 (temporarily down from $16), brand unknown (all I know is that the "canvas" is made by American Apparel), from the FIDM scholarship store. Probably the work of a student...who knows? This top illustrates why brands don't matter. It's just a comfy, simple, yet very pretty top. The embroidery isn't just flat--the cloth in the center of the flowers is intentionally gathered. I looked on the back and saw elastic bands sewn in. Definitely changes the "topography" of the top.

-Button shrug--$16.50 from the Esprit sales section. Yes, bold color, but it's a more normal kind of bold (not like hideous neons). Looks perfect over sleeveless tops and small enough to carry in your purse to keep warm when a) you step into air-conditioned spaces or b) it cools down at night. Embroidery on right sleeve and left shoulder with some small metallic beads sewn in--makes the plant design (I think) look like they are peacock feathers.


There IS redemption for buyer's remorse--jeans

Here's a classic hypothetical: you see something on the sales rack that is really, really marked down. You try it on, you kinda like it, it's a little big on you, but since it's fits and it's cheap you buy it anyways. After taking it home, you decided that it's not really your thing, but oops, you can't return it anymore. Before forever banishing the offending piece to the darkest part of your closet, or worse, the trash can, there is something you can do without paying a visit and lots of cash to a tailor. This is part 1 of a series that will develop as I revisit my own fashion mistakes.

Problem: The infamous bulge at the waistband. The jeans were just a tad too big, and alas, didn't shrink in the dryer.

Solution: I'm having this problem with a pair of my newly-acquired $10 jeans. There are a couple of things you can do. The obvious solution is a good belt. The wider, the better--if the belt is too thin, the bulge will get even uglier when you cinch the waistband, not to mention your belt is drawing attention to the problem area. A wide belt hides everything.

If you're still concerned that the belt isn't doing the trick, or you just don't want to wear one, or too cheap to get a wide belt (that's me), wear a top that's long enough to hide the waistband. Since the bared midriff is getting phased out, there are plenty of long, trendy tunics, camis, and t-shirts around. A shirtdress is also great for that purpose. I'm sure you must have at least one such item in your closet. Problem solved if you're wearing something loose and deconstructed, but if you put on a fitted top, the big loose waistband is going to ruin a smooth silhouette. Don't wear a big belt underneath, since the bulkiness will show through. Either wear the big belt on top, which is all the rage these days, or go for a discrete scarf or a ribbon belt below. Cool necklaces or earrings will also help run interference, but an eye-catching bracelet might be a bad idea, for obvious reasons.

If your jeans are long enough and not too flared, fold them into big cuffs just above your ankles. That'll surely detract attention from the midsection. Besides, it's an economical way to observe the trends--why spend money on a pair of jeans that comes already cuffed when that style isn't going to last? I'm not very fond of this fad, but at least it's utilitarian and looks really good on my jeans.

For guys, this never seems to be a problem. What's with the boxer-showing trend, anyways? Ick. Better yet, just throw on something oversized. Problem solved.



One thing about metallic colors is that they are great for dressing up or perking up an outfit when you're dressing down. They look especially great when they're peeping out from the under hems of dark jeans. Metallics happen to be "in" right now. Even when they're not super-popular, they're never truly "out." Every time I wear my $9 pair of silver Penny Loves Kenny pointy-toed mules, someone always compliments it and asked where I got them from.

While my pair of shiny beauties are no longer on the shelves, I found these from the sales section of Blush. Aren't these the cutest things? Instead of being a painful $125, they are now available for $25 (plus $12 if you're in CA). At that retail price, I'm assuming they're made of leather, which means they'll last longer than my synthetic pair. There are other cute metallic moccasins that are probably more comfortable for long trips on foot, but I just thought these are more adorable.

Sadly, I blew a lot of money on Sample Sale Friday in Towntown LA yesterday. I spent a LOT of money at a charity sale in the Cooper Building, but they are things I can wear for ages. Come on, where else can you get a beautiful, soft, 100% cashmere sweater, a Trina Turk one no less, for 30 bucks? An American Apparel tee at $5 was money well spent. A Development blazer at $60 was a real drain on my wallet, but it's really something that's toned down enough to be work-appropriate and have details that are unique enough for playtime; it's beautiful fabric and construction will last through years. There were tons of Ruth tops that went for $10, but since I already spent another $35 for a vintage-looking dress, I decided that it would be $10 too many. Besides, most of the money I spent went toward charity, since the sale that really depleted my savings donated all proceeds to Katrina victims.

There was just a lot of good sales in the New Mart yesterday. It took a lot of self-restraint to make sure I didn't go way overboard. Lots of Sweetees things for $5 or $10 (I picked up one item); some of the stuff I saw are still on clearances at various websites for 2 or 3 times more. The Juicy showroom was also open...once I heard people buzzing about it, I headed straight there to find a rather long line. Fortunately, I knew there was only 1 size of jeans available on the rack (mine), so I grabbed all the jeans I could find (only 2) and tried them on. One was lowrise and a little snug, while the other was the perfect dark wash and easy to get into, but it was a little loose as a regular rise. I took them anyway, since even $10 Target jeans or $15 Express jeans at Ross wouldn't have done much better for a fit. At $10 each, as opposed to the insane $150-200 retail, that was really a steal.

The "luxury denim" market is just insane--I don't have time to get started now, but you're now on notice that my manifesto against "name brands" and "human billboards" will come very soon. Juicy Jeans are well-made, look good, and are very comfy--plenty of good reasons why they're worth more than the discount store price, but they shouldn't be *that* expensive. I'm sure there's a way to get comfy, well-fitting jeans without paying the 3-digit figure.