Preview: The Power of the Scarf

Desperation drives ingenuity, which was great back in the caveman days and continues to move society forward. Unfortunately, there are instances where this phenomenon can be maladaptive. For instance, I was desperate to get away from studying, so I conjured up some non-law-related lightbulb moment that had to be explored.

My friend and I went out during a not-so-bright, but early (for a Sunday) morning to a vintage clothing and textiles trade show. It was quite fascinating, even though most items were waaaay too expensive for me. Some items resembles things I've seen in thrift stores. Still, it was neat to see things from turn of the century, which I couldn't have found at the Goodwill.

I had little money to begin with, and the $4.50 admission fee made another dent. Seeing that most things were pricey, I didn't expect to buy anything. I guess you can say the best was saved for last. In the second exhibition room we went to, there were loads of affordable and interesting stuff. I bought a huge scarf for a dollar! Tonight I played around a bit to see what I could do with it, and I was quite amazed at the result. Since it'll take a while to write about it coherently, I'll save it until after next week. Be excited...be very excited!


Am I Losing It?

I'm seriously doubting my money saving skills.

Lately I've spent waaaay too much on clothes. Even a few years ago, I rarely went shopping. Sometime during law school, I somehow got interested in fashion and went shopping more often. Then I got interested in accessories. Now I'm interested in vintage clothes. Geez, what happened to the willpower I used to have, the restraint? What good is having the ability to buy cheap clothes if I shop too frequently? At least today I reminded myself of this fact and didn't go sample sale shopping in Downtown LA, so I suppose it's a good start.

Then there's this thing with the newest purchase for my apartment--a used refrigerator. The fridge my roommate and I currently use was acquired less than a year ago (you can read about our last fridge ordeal here, toward the end of the post). I knew it was old and might not last long when we bought it for $40, but I was hoping that it would last until I graduate. Well, that didn't happen. The fridge side is still cold, but our freezer doesn't freeze. Adding to that, our electricity bill have been spiking ever since we bought this fridge; it's so old that it eats power the way Hummers guzzle gas. Obviously, it's time to find a replacement while the fridge is still breathing.

My roommate generously spent her time tracking one down through Craig's List. $125 is not bad for a fridge that's supposedly just a couple years old--the seller said his friend, who owned the fridge for "a couple of years," gave it to him a year and a half ago. We went after a dinner get-together to take a look at the fridge. There were a few marks across the front of the fridge, but the inside was remarkably clean. There was even a packet of instruction booklets in the freezer (the fridge was powered off at the time). Since we wanted to make sure the fridge works before we buy it, the seller said he'd turn it on and we'll give final approval when we truck it home 2 days later. When we went to pick it up, the fridge was nice and cold. We paid the full $125, took off the shelves, and moved the fridge onto a truck. I went to get my car so that we can load the shelves in it. While I was off retrieving my vehicle (which has issues that I'll discuss in a future post), my roommate and the seller looked at the instruction booklet and found a receipt in it. As it turns out, the receipt was from 6 years ago--apparently, the seller's friend's "couple of years" was much more than that. My roommate and I were under the impression that the fridge was about 3 years old. By then, it was too late to renegotiate the price, as we already paid.

I'm not mad at the seller at all--if he really intended to lie to us about the age of the fridge, he wouldn't have left the receipt lying around. In fact, he wouldn't have provided any documentation. Instead, I was mad at myself--why did I not bargain at all? I had 2 chances, but I did nothing. I could have said that there are marks on the fridge, but I thought cosmetic concerns are irrelevant when the fridge was so clean and well-maintained. Even so, I could have given it a try, just to lower it by $5 or something. But when I found out about the age of the fridge, I was just furious--why didn't I read the documentation? It was so simple! Law school has really changed the way I think. Despite the fact that the fridge is clean and works great, I was angry that I didn't pick up on the receipt and therefore couldn't argue for a better price based on the depreciation of value over the 6 years.

Now that I'm more level-headed, I can see that the price is actually not bad. The fridge actually depreciated by about $70 per year, so it's not like we were grossly overcharged. The seller's location was close to home, so that saved time and money on gas. The fridge is clean, so I didn't have to spend forever cleaning it. Still, I have to learn to be a better negotiator. Do I really have to rely on flaws to get a better price? I think the answer is "no."

I definitely learned a lot out of this. Here are the few things that I can coherently articulate:

1) Don't shop for more expensive items when you're tired--fatigue broke me down. I wasn't alert enough to spot all the flaws. I was in no mood to negotiate; I just wanted to secure a fridge and go home. Car dealerships might use this strategy to wear bargainers down as well. When one of my friends was shopping for a car, a dealership subjected him to a multi-hour negotiatathon. My friend didn't buckle when the price and car weren't right. He left after all that. Big props to him for doing that.

2) Even if there are no flaws, try to negotiate anyway. I don't know why I didn't do it--was I embarassed? I really don't know. It wouldn't hurt to try with a reasonable dollar figure.

3) Read everything! I couldn't have possibly thought about it at the time, but now that I learned my lesson, I won't forget.

4) If you're buying a used refrigerator, get one that's a couple of years old. While it may be more expensive, you'll save in terms of headaches and the electricity bill in the long run.

Well, that will be all until at least 7 days later. I'm taking the MPRE next Friday. Now I have to go back to studying with a borrowed book (at least I didn't have to spend any more money on test prep). Stay out of the heat but enjoy Summer!


Shoe Thing

Since I'll be busy next week, I'm "frontloading" this week. The summer is winding down and there's so much to do.

Woe is me...on-campus recruiting is right around the corner, and my trusty pumps have literally worn down to the hilt:

I bought this pair of Issac Mizrahi pumps from Target last year; I paid full price (gasp!) because I desperately needed a pair of pumps for interviews. They've served me really well--I wore them all the time, they were fairly comfortable to walk in, and they look really sleek. People have mistaken them for some really expensive designer shoe. Since I love these shoes, I'll get the heels repaired. Any idea how much this costs? Everything in the LA proper is really expensive, so I'll have to wait until I have time to take them to the suburbs.

In the meantime, I need a backup pair of pumps. I went to the Goodwill yesterday in hopes I'll get them for cheap. Sure enough, I found a $2.99 pair of unworn Payless pumps with a cushiony insole. I figured that they're new because the heels and soles are completely free of scuffs. There were a few scratches here and there on the rest of the shoe, but not a big deal:

While I was there, I indulged in recreational shopping again:

They're used, but in pretty good shape and had a leather sole. I love the rich green color and the suede decorative detail--looks like a bow without looking tacky. The only problem that stands out is the little scratch on the toe of the left shoe, but the shoes are otherwise gorgeous. Not bad for $3.99.

Some rich lady must have made a donation recently, since I found quite a few Armani and Escada pants, skirts, and suit jackets. I found an Armani jacket for $6.99 that looked kinda cool, but it seemed too big on me (must have been the shoulder pads). Likewise, the other stuff was too big. Would have been nice additions to my work wardrobe had they fit.

Clothing For Charity Goodies

The C4C website is back with new goodies! I usually don't bother with things that are full-priced, but this is different. The money we pay goes to a good cause. Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a money jam right now, but I definitely want to buy something in the future.

Here's my favorite dress at the moment:

I love the print and the halter straps. It's a style that's more flattering on me.

This one is also very cool. Not really my style, but I can totally see someone wearing leggings and flats with it. At $19, it's very affordable for an indie designer piece:

In other news, the tan and olive pants I got from the Joie sale are going to be eBay'd. The tan pair that I can squeeze into might shrink in the wash and not fit altogether, so I don't want to take a chance. The sad part is that the waist is a perfect fit but it's tight at the legs, so even if I went 1 size bigger, the fit would have been off. If they don't sell, then I'll save them for the holidays...no, I'm not giving them away as gifts, but rather for charity. Last year my school had a clothing and toiletries drive for battered women's shelters. I figured that the young people who are there with their mothers could use some clothes too. It's rather uncharacteristic of me to have put money on something that doesn't fit, but at least someone will benefit from it.


Loehmann's Lowdown

Brief interruption: I made a couple of changes on my post on haircuts throughout the day. The changes are in bold. Now back to the regularly scheduled program...

If you were at Loehmann's a few weeks ago and there were things that you were on the fence about buying because of the price, now might be a good time to move in for the kill. The clearance is still addition 40% off red tags, but there's an addition 10% tacked on after the discount is taken. I wouldn't go there unless there's something I've been eyeing last time, though; the merch is the same, but much more picked over. I was only there because I had brunch with my friends at the Fairfax/3rd Farmers' Market and we went afterwards. I was bad again...I bought a Milly skirt for $12, including tax. A few sizes too big according to the label (which is why I didn't snag it the first time), but it actually fits OK.

The sale ends 7/31.

Hairy Business

I've been to places that charge $20-something for a haircut, and I've been to $5 dives. I wouldn't recommend getting a cut at those $5 places unless you're a guy who needs a buzz cut or a girl who wants a "punch bowl" cut (you know, like if someone puts a bowl over your head and cuts straight all around). A few years ago, I needed a cut and highlight job before going to a friend's wedding. I wanted to find a new place that does both well for cheap, as I was not happy with my last hairdresser's work. By happenstance, I came across a place with a huge "Grand Opening" sign while I was out with my family. We stopped the car, both my sister and I got our haircuts, and we were really satisfied. My $55 highlight job was so well done that it lasted for almost a year...things looked even better as the color darkened and through subsequent haircuts.

Some of my friends considered a $25 haircut to be a great deal; they thought that usually it costs a lot more. They were often astonished when I told them my haircut was $10, considering the cut looked so good. I wonder what makes a $100 cut (and I mean just a cut, not including extra pampering or treatments) so special? I seriously don't know because I've never gone to a high-end salon. If anyone has, please let me know what it's like.

Fast forward to today, when I got my haircut done for $15. I didn't expect the $10 introductory price to last for long, but the price remains reasonable enough such that I won't bolt. More importantly, I feel like I get much more than $15 worth of service. The hair salon is actually a bit of a drive for me, but I'm willing to bear with the travel because she does such a good job. I've also referred friends who asked me about it.

Regardless of geographic location, there are ways to get a great haircut without having to fall behind on rent:

1) Survey your friends. They can tell you about the price and quality. If your friend just got a haircut, you get to judge for yourself--your friend's idea of "great" might not mesh with yours. Sometimes mentioning that you've been referred can get you a discount, but you'll probably have to negotiate for it up front. It might be helpful to talk to friends whose hair is similar to yours to find a hair stylist who understands what looks good on you. For example, many people I know (who are Asian) agree that it's best to go to a place that understands what looks good on Asians, because not all cuts work out. However, don't take this to mean that only Asian hairstylists know how to work with Asian hair, because this is simply not true.

2) This isn't my idea, but I've heard that some people get their haircuts at an expensive salon, then go to a cheaper one to get it maintained. I've never had to do this, but it sounds like a great idea.

3) Some beauty schools or top-dollar salon have discounted days/nights when customers serve as guinea pigs. If you're a student, there might be days when you get an additional discount, so call for details.

Don't fret about having to hide under a hat for the next decade--people who are allowed to cut your hair have been well-trained and are constantly supervised by experienced stylists. Some are bright-eyed bushy-tail students, some are professionals who are there to get their continuation training. The downside is the wait. Before I found the place I go to now, I went to the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica to spruce up before my roommate's graduation. The prices were very reasonable (I believe it was $18 for a cut), and I was fairly happy with my cut. Unfortunately, the students are so well-supervised that they have to wait for approval after each step. The student who did my hair knew that I needed to go to a graduation ceremony, and she worked as quickly as she could, but I was there for 5 friggin' hours! After a harrowing bus ride, I got to the ceremony just in time to see my roommie walk. Hence, if you're in a hurry, don't choose this option.

4) If you have other friends/family members who need a haircut, get them to go with you. You're giving the salon more business, so you have the leverage to negotiate the price. Just make sure you negotiate up front; it's only fair that both parties know what they're getting into.

5) Even if you're going by yourself, negotiate. Again, negotiate before you sit down in the chair. If it's your first trip, you can try to knock the price down a little; small salons, particularly those that are just starting out, want to establish a client base and are more willing give some inducement. If you're a regular client, establish a good rapport so that you can at least get a discount upon the first price increase or with more expensive services. Sometimes hairdressers can get chatty and even nosy (at least mine is), but if you can at least sustain some small talk and exude a friendly attitude, you'll get what you want most of the time. Also, if you've mentioned that you've referred your friends (and get your referee to say the same), it'll give you more leverage.

6) If you tend to get your haircuts through national chains (like Supercuts), find the website and join the mailing list. I know that Supercuts often emails coupons.

7) If you want to dye your hair, there are tons of home kits to try. Unlike highlights, dyeing your hair is fairly easy to do. However, you might want to do some research on before you buy. Based on observations of a relative's hair, Garnier seems to work pretty well (very natural black), but another brand that I can't remember didn't do so well (more like a midnight blue). One of my aunts uses a Henna recipe that's really smelly, but it's natural, cheap, and produces a nice light brown color. It turns white hair into highlights, without the ridiculous salon prices. I don't know what her recipe is, but I'm sure you can find it through the miracle of search engines.

8) This probably isn't the best method for most people, but it works for me: I purposely get my hair cut just a little bit shorter than I'd like; it grows out to the perfect length in a couple of weeks. That way, it'll "last longer." I only go to the hairdresser once every 4-6 months because I let my hair grow out to different lengths (and hence different styles), so every time my friends see me, they think I got a different cut. Saves money, too.

9) At some places, weekday rates are less than weekend rates, presumably because the weekdays are slow.

To recap, negotiation is a powerful tool (surprise!). If you're squeamish about it and don't want to do it, that's OK. Just make sure you know exactly how much you'll have to pay before you sit down. Salons often don't have prices listed on the wall, so it's easy to get overcharged if you just go along with it. If the price they're giving you is too expensive, you can always walk. If you're embarassed about that too, pretend you got a call on your cell phone and walk out for better reception =).


Solved: The Thrift Store Anomaly

Remember how I was puzzled by the lack of quality at the second thrift store I went to (in a trendier area)? Well, my credit card statement explains a lot. As it turns out, the thrift store where I scored great stuff (in a not-so-good area) is actually designated as a thrift store for a very wealthy part of town. That is the "rich area thrift store" I've been looking for.

Needless to say, I'll scout out that store more often =).


Joie Sample Sale (and shopping in Vernon in general)

I didn't have to go to work today, so I decided to scope out the Joie sample sale, located at 2323 52nd Street in Vernon. The sale will continue tomorrow from 10am to 4pm. I'm not exactly the biggest fan of the Joie label--most of the clothes are cute, but sizing of pants is very inconsistent and sale prices are usually not that great. Still, I thought that I shouldn't knock it until I've seen it.

Traffic on I-10 wasn't too bad, but street traffic on Alameda was horrible. If you plan to go, it's better to take the E. Alameda roadway on the left side when Alameda splits up (kinda like Santa Monica Blvd. and Little Santa Monica Blvd. before the construction, if you're familiar with the Westide area). I stayed on the main road and ended up overshooting 52nd (the nearest light was on 55th). When I found the warehouse, I couldn't find legitimate parking. Considering that Vernon is really an industrial area, the streets were not made to accommodate lots of people. Nearly the entire street was a "no parking" zone, since trucks need to get through. I drove around some side streets, but it's a really sketchy area. I ended up squeezing into a space near the warehouse, with half of my car in the red zone. Constant worrying about a ticket might be the reason why I didn't enjoy my shopping trip that much. Your odds of finding parking is better on 51st street (53rd doesn't seem like a good place to be).

Unlike the BCBG sales, there were no "no try-ons" signs, but since the sale takes place in the parking lot, you can't really try on the bottoms without the risk of being booked for indecent exposure. The prices were OK for what the goods were, but for the most part, they were too expensive for me. Damages were $10, tanks were $10, tops were $20, bottoms $25, dress $30 (I think), sweaters $35, and leather goods were $100; in my opinion, $10 is a lot for damaged goods. I rifled through the racks and didn't find anything that appealed to me. Since I was worried about my car, I was about to leave when I saw a lot of unopened boxes on the other side of the parking lot. As it turns out, that's the "bargain bin"--1 for $10 or 2 for $15. Most of them were pants still in their shrink wraps.

Since I was all about taking risks today, I decided to buy the bargain pants without trying them on. After all, I've tried on Joie pants on other occasions, so I have an idea about what works for me. To better gauge the fit of the pants, I used another crackerjack method devised by my mom:

1) Measure the front--press the pants against yourself to see whether the edges are about halfway around your waist, hips, and thighs, since those are the more difficult area. If things seem OK, don't celebrate too soon. If things don't quite fit, don't despair yet. Remember at which point the edges hit your body, then check the back,

2) Measure the back--hold the pants by the widest point at the hips, and stretch it across your butt. The edges should hit at the point you measured from the front. If it goes beyond that point, the pants are bigger than you, and you need to think about whether you're OK with it being loose as long as it stays on. If it doesn't even get to the point you measured from the front, forget it. Even if the fabric is stretchy, you're probably not going to squeeze in.

I bought a jacket and 3 pairs of pants, for a total of $30.

The Score:

Even though I already have a similar jacket, I think the dark color makes it look classier. The small was a bit tight, so I went with a medium. I'm usually an xs. Yup, that tells you a lot about their sizing.

The Loss:

Since I'm not a game theory expert, I lose sometimes. This is one of those times. I bought a pair of size 26 Joie pants from Loehmann's and they were a tad big (still fits OK), but I tried on a size 25 of another cut and it was way too small. The size 28 sample they had hanging on the rack seemed really small for a 28, so I figured sizes 26 and 27 should be fine. I ended up getting this pair of pants (in 26), another pair in camel brown (27), and a pair of cropped cargo pants (26). Talk about a tale of 3 pairs of pants: the cargos were just a tad big at the waist, the brown pair barely fits, and this olive green pair was too small--it's really more of a 24.

Ah well, I'm don't feel too bad because it's like losing a $5 wager. If I bought 3 items, it would have been $25. I'm going to let my skinny friends have a stab at this, and if it doesn't work out, I'll eBay it.

This trip also taught me something about sample sales held in Vernon, which are fairly common since a lot of apparel manufacturers are housed there. In fact, the Blue Cult warehouse was right next door. Even though there was a sign about a sale, I didn't bother going in because I felt drained by the heat...I just wanted to go home. Here's what I learned:

1) Know the sizing before you go--it'll help you find what you need sooner, and you won't lose money on clothes that you can't wear.

2) Wear comfortable shoes--as I mentioned before, Vernon was not designed to accomodate tons of people who don't work there. Last time I parked many, many blocks away from the BCBG warehouse and had to take a 15-minute walk.

3) Go early--forget the merchandise, the hot commodities are those precious few parking spaces. Grab them before they're gone.

4) Carpool if possible--same reason as above.

5) Figure out if you're turning left or right--if you came from the 10, have to travel along Alameda, and have to turn left, it's best to take the smaller roadway to avoid the slow traffic.

6) Bring water--it's a scorcher out there. Even if the weather is cooler, long waits outdoors will sap you.

7) Bring a big tote bag--your arms might get tired from hauling around your loot. Worse yet, the bag might rip and you'll have a hard time dealing with the aftermath (i.e. walking for blocks and blocks). Let your shoulders help you out.


How to Bug the Bugs

I've been busy with work, people visiting, and will soon have to jump through another hoop to lawyerdom, so there's no time to shop. For once, I actually need to shop. I was dressing for work this morning and realized that I don't have enough work-worthy tops for the summer. I've got plenty for the winter, but in these 100-degree days, they're not helping much.

Anyways, on to less frivolous things. It's gotten so hot that bugs have to go indoors for some respite. That's not good for humankind. I'm just glad that I don't have to worry about mosquitos, but ants and roaches can be a handful. The fact that I'm pro-organic foods, anti-organic solvents doesn't help. I just don't like being stuck in the midst of a revolting organophosphate cloud. Hence, I came up with less noxious method for fighting ants. I might have posted about this a while ago (can't remember), but I think it's a good time to bring it up again.

This trick isn't going to get rid of ants entirely, but it's a good quick fix; at least you can scare them and seal off nooks and crannies that you don't want them to get into. Bugs don't like capsacin, which is present in spicy things like chili peppers. If our nerve endings get burned by the spice, think of what a tiny little flake can do to a critter half its size. Spread some pepper flakes on a flat surface, cut out a piece of packing tape, use it to stick on some of those pepper flakes and voila--your very own anti-ant tape. You can lay it out on a particular surface, or stick it wherever you want. I've tried whole chili pods as well, but they just don't work very well. Thankfully, the ant problem that struck my apartment a few months ago is no more. The tape definitely scared the ants (they started to run wild when they reach the tape), and we confined them to areas that are food free, but they didn't go away entirely. We ended up having to supplement with some Raid ant bait to finish the job (and allow us to breathe).

When I was in a serious jam with a massive ant invasion, I needed something that works right away. Hence, I sprayed them with rubbing alcohol (I prefer ethanol over isopropanol, a.k.a. isopropyl alcohol)--not great for paint on the wall, but rubbing alcohol is cheap, the smell is more tolerable, and it stuns the ants instantly, giving me the chance to wipe their dissolved exoskeletons off the wall. OK, that was a bit morbid and sadistic...but I have no sympathy for vermin that invade my happy home.

This next trick is something I heard on a radio show. I haven't used it myself (no roaches in my apartment, thank goodness), so I can't vouch for its effectiveness. It sounded promising and simple, though:

There's an easy way to fight roaches using none other than perfumed bar soap. Cut the soap in really small crumbs, put some on a dish, add enough water to cover the soap bits, then place the dish in places where roaches roam (like wall corners). I don't know the scientific basis for this, but I don't have the time to figure it out (soap = high pH? But what makes the perfume so repugnant to them?) or find out. Maybe another day.

That's all from me tonight. Feel free to share your own "secret" bug-fighting formulae.


More on Thrifting

I'd like to say a big "Thank You" to everyone who commented. Your comments and suggestions are invaluable, and I am definitely impressed by your spoils of thrifting. Here are some additional canons that emerged:

1) Grab first, inspect second--BrownEyedGirl is absolutely right. The good stuff will go fast, so grab first, mull later (before checkout, of course).

2) Weekdays are better, then early on the weekends--again, the early bird gets the worm. Thanks to La Pulga Diva for this and the next tip.

3) Don't forget to check Craig's List for garage sales in wealthy areas, and go early on the first day--in my opinion, garage sales are great because the goods are handled directly by the seller and not a chain of people who may or may not have tossed things around. Also, packrats who finally let go tend to let out some very old and interesting things. Lots of eBay sellers often got their merch from their granny's attics. [Ed.: BrownEyedGirl also recommends going at the end of the sale, since people who are looking to get rid of their stuff will sell the leftovers for next to nothing, if not free. This is really true--one time I was on the fence about buying a particular item from a friend, since I didn't think I'd want it anymore. Since she needed to move overseas, I ended up getting it for free. I felt guilty about my indecisiveness and the subsequent freebie, so I treated her to a drink.]

Finally, after visiting another thrift store today, I have to revise my "location matters" theory. I don't know if this particular store is a statistical outlier or not, but it's really messing up my analysis because my sample size is so small (n = 3). I'll have to visit more stores in the future to get a better generalization.

I went to an area that's somewhat more trendy. That Goodwill is definitely bigger, cleaner, and 10X more organized. There were lots of things with original retail tags still on (as opposed to none at the first store I went to). The clothes are also trendier, but not necessarily better in quality--most of the clothes are from mall stores, a few are from midrange designers, but nothing upscale. There was a linen Christian Dior suit set, but there was also a pair of ugly red Versace pants. In fact, I didn't buy anything because everything was rather "blah."

Resale/consignment stores might be the reason why there's less (or no) upscale items in rich area thrift stores, since people can get cold hard cash back for their used clothes. I have yet to hit one yet...that's a mission for another day.


Forays into Thrifting

Thrifting is a new experience for me. My mom has long discouraged buying second-hand because "why bother when you can buy new clothes for cheap," "you don't know where they came from," "they're old and will fall apart anyway," etc. It didn't help that sometimes my dad would bring home junky clothes of questionable origins; I surmise that they came from a local swap meet that he frequents, and I don't have a good opinion about that place. Mom's words certainly have merit, but there's always another side to the story.

I've shunned the idea of thrifting until recently, when I saw lots of cool vintage outfits from StyleDiary members. Many of those pieces are fun and unique, and most of them are cheap--hits two birds with one stone for me. Besides, while my dad brought home a lot of misses, occasionally he got me a couple of things that are worthy of The Greatest Hits. Still, it took a while before I warmed up to the idea of buying old clothes. Sure, one (wo)man's trash may be another's treasure, but more often than not, things are discarded because they're no longer wanted, and they're no longer wanted because of some other reason, which is probably bad. A couple of years ago, I went to a thrift store in my hometown to buy a cute napkin holder to use as a letter holder. That place was really junky, so I didn't have much incentive to go here again.

Last weekend I decided to go into that same thrift store, albeit with a new mission--hunting for interesting clothing and accessories. Unfortunately, my reluctant enthusiasm was squashed the minute I walked into the store. I was overwhelmed by the smell of some kind of disinfectant spray. It was a busy day and lots of shoppers went on undeterred, but I did not enjoy my time there. Everything was old and not at all interesting. Needless to say, I didn't stay for long.

Yesterday I decided to go to a Goodwill near where I'm living now. Like my hometown, the area is far from being affluent, but it's surrounded by some very well-heeled neighborhoods. I figured that my chances of finding something nice would be higher, because the materials donated by people from the surrounding areas might be of better quality. Sure enough, the vibe was much better than the first time I visited a thrift store. There were no funky smells, even though the store seemed a bit chaotic. I didn't expect the store to have a whole lot of goodies, since it is a thrift store after all, but there were quite a few gems hidden amongst the ordinary to ugly junk (like a blue shirt with the "LV" logo printed all over, a pair of white linen Fendi pants, and a "Gucci" backpack-purse). I found a pair of Joe's Jeans in fairly good shape (for $5), an Armani blazer (much too big for me), a vintage Valentino wool skirt (also too big for me), a couple of $30 leather blazers (including a vintage Alaia, which was in pretty decent shape), a $4 pair of red patent leather BCBGirls stiletto boots (much too sassy for me), and a few other small wonders. I was amazed by the good selection of work-worthy clothes, but I guess people naturally take good care of their suits and stuff.

After a few hours of browsing, I plunked down $13 and walked away with 4 items:

1) a Grass denim miniskirt

It appears to be in really good shape--no holes, tears, stains, etc. The plastic tag attachment thingy was actually hidden inside the seams, so it might not have been worn before at all. The fit isn't perfect, but then again it's rare to find something that is. This skirt has fun pocket details and will make a good replacement for my stiff $7 Gap mini, which warped in the washer or dryer and hasn't been worn much since.

2) a microfiber/PVC clutch

This one is in excellent shape. It might have been lightly used, or brand new--a piece of cardboard protecting the bottom and sides was still in it. Too bad they marked the price on the inside lining of the bag...otherwise it's perfect. Simple yet modern and streamlined--just the way I like it.

3) a vintage Sears top

Probably from the 70's, and probably never been worn (plastic tag thingy still attached to the label). There were a few light yellow spots on the collar, but they came out in the wash. This top is about 10 sizes too big--even after accounting for the vintage vs. modern sizing issue--but I intended to wear it loosely as a tunic anyways. As you can see, it works just fine.

4) an Olay canvas bag

I don't think Olay was ever in the business of retailing bags, so I'm guessing this came as part of a kit of some sort. Obviously old in appearance, a few pen marks here and there (which came off during cleaning), but otherwise in great shape. Parts of it smelled musty even after a wash-and-scrub, but I guess there's not much I can do about it.

As The Budget Fashionista said, thrifted items should be disinfected. I threw the top and the skirt into the washing machine, turned the knob to the hot water setting, added detergent, and a little extra sumpthin'-sumpthin'. I didn't have the TBF-recommended Pine Sol. Instead, I added what my roommate recommended--a cup of vinegar. I guess as long as it changes the pH of the washer's brew, the germs will be extremely unhappy. As for the bags, I washed and scrubbed them by hand in water + detergent. Since I'm not going to wear them, they don't have to be super-clean. This obviously can't be done with leather, so I guess you'll have to use a sanitizing spray and wipe with a damp cloth.

To wrap up, here's what I learned:
1) Location matters--rich people get rid of nicer things, if quality is what you're looking for. Next time I'll hit thrift stores in more upscale areas to see if this theory continues to hold.
2) Patience is a virtue--it'll take quite a while to dig through the junk. Shop more carefully than you would in a retail store, since you can't return your purchases for a refund. As always, inspect for damage, buy only what you like and can fit into, etc.
3) Vintage sizing runs smaller--if something looks vintage, don't automatically dismiss it just because it's size 14. I don't look like a size 14 to you, do I?
4) Disinfecting your purchases is not that hard--consult the TBF website or book, or these sites that my roommate recommended.
5) The Signs are there--if a pungent odor is emanating from the store, it's a sign that something is rotten, not just in Denmark (sorry, the Shakespeare geek in me just had to say something).

What are your thrifting tips and stories, from scoring big to finding the right store? Comment away =)


Logo Be Gone: DIY Makeover

My usual prescription for a case of the blues is total immersion in work. When I'm productive, I feel like I'm fulfilling some kind of purpose. I've finished the task that plagued me for the past few weeks, so today I decided to take on a new project. One of things I've wanted to do was to make-over a tote bag I got at a career fair. Love the size, not the logo...I'm just not a logo-lovin' person, even if it's luxury.

The bag is just...boring. I decided to upgrade using needles, thread, fabric scraps (including the legs I had cut off during my DIY capris project), a couple of buttons, and old clothes. A number of hours later (I literally lost track of time), I came up with this:

Sewing the pieces together by hand was much harder than anticipated, and it didn't turn out as well as I expected (the seams are really crooked), but it's certainly better than before. To give you an idea of how much work went into it, I ran out of a small spool of thread and had to use a different color to finish.

What I did was cut out triangular pieces, overlap them (short pieces behind long ones), then sew them together. That was the hard part. It's much easier to sew the finished form onto the bag, but special care is needed to make sure that the piece won't get warped on the bag. If you have an embroidery hoop, use it. Otherwise, it might be wise to keep the bag taut with your free hand (and knees if necessary), or keep the bag flat on the floor as you're sewing. As for the smaller flower on the side, it's just like folding a fan, except you keep everything in place with a few stitches.

All in all, it's a good way of recycling old clothes and get a "new" bag out of it. If I can do it, you can too =)


LA Sample Sale: Mike & Chris

I learned one important lesson over the past few weeks: when you're tasked with a project, work furiously early. Yes, the risk of burnout is there, but there's a good chance that you'll get the satisfaction of finishing early. I had to grade a stack of papers and I started out too slowly. Consequently, I had to do a mad dash in the end, and it was not pretty (try rushing to meet a deadline when you have a headache).

Anyways, enough of that. Since I was out of the house today (to turn those papers in), I decided to do some window-shopping for the rest of the afternoon. Yes, window-shopping. I said earlier that I'm done buying play clothes, and I'm trying to stick to my guns. I knew where I wanted to go: Mike & Chris, the creaters of a line of absolutely delicious hoodies-slash-vests or blazers or jumpers or bombers or [insert other varieties of outerwear here], is having a sample sale. It kicked off today and will continue Saturday, 10am-7pm. The prices were advertised as 50-70% for the Spring line, and I've never seen the clothes up close and personal, so I just had to look.

I can't believe that I almost went from window-shopping to actual shopping. The prices ranged from $38 on shrug-styled hoodies to I think $175 for leather vests, with a majority of everyday-wearable stuff in the $55-70 range. Everything are made of heavy sweatshirt fleece materials, except they were made into the form of heavier outerwear. I really loved the $55 short-sleeved tie blazers and would have bought one if they had a cream colored one in small, but there were no smalls left. Yes, it would have been a huge splurge, but it would have gotten as much wear as my other expensive acquisition (a $60 Development blazer) simply because it's timeless. I had my eye on another cream-colored short-sleeved bomber hoodie, but for some reason, my "love at first sight" turned into a "meh on a second look." Finally, I loved a military-looking long-sleeved hoodie. It would have been truly timeless. Unfortunately, two things stacked against it. First, it was $68. Although I could be cynical and call it a glorified hoodie (I have no qualms about slamming glorified flipflops), I won't because it doesn't deserve to be so treated--the clothes were truly cute and functional. I would be willing to do this once-in-a-year splurge if it were to fit perfectly, but unfortunately, I was in between sizes. The small was a bit tight at the shoulders, while the medium had too-long sleeves. On top of that, given my expedient attitudes toward laundry and my recent lucklessness, I might shrink it before I have a chance to wear it out. To my knowledge, cotton doesn't have a simple, "boingy" alpha-helix structure (such as wool), so conventional unshrinking methods probably won't work. Even though I spent quite some time there to try on different styles and colors, I decided that the prudent thing to do was to walk away.

If you're interested, here's the lowdown: the sale is located at 834 South Broadway, suite 502 (between 8th and 9th) in the Anjac building. If you plan to go, look to the skies and watch for the 834 street number--there's another Anjac building at 818 Broadway (2 buildings over). I learned the difference in a rather embarrassing manner. If you don't see something in your size on the racks, ask the people running the show--they might have them in the back. Just be warned that the small sizes are either gone or limited in numbers, so go early. If you're really dying to buy a cute hoodie, couldn't find one in your size, but are willing to chance it, you might want to consider buying a larger size and shrinking it. I was told that a medium had shrunken to an extra-small. However, there's a big risk that even if you do end up with a good fit, the seams might end up kinda weird. That's a chance I wasn't willing to take. Finally, watch out for loose buttons, stains, and holes. Loose buttons are not a big deal, but the other two can be trouble.

Here's another place you can go for shopper comments and advice.


Happy Independence Day!

My city seemingly scrimped on fireworks this year. The shows feel shorter and shorter over the years, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. It's amusing to see the lengths people will go just to secure parking for a 15-minute show, but it's harmless fun and makes for priceless, quality family moments.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!


I should be working right now, but I've read enough horrid papers for the day and need a break before reading what I think will be a really good one. This post isn't related to shopping at all, but since I blog about financial matters on occasion, it's not entirely irrelevant...

I bet employers around the world must be breathing a sigh of relief now that the World Cup is coming to a close. Millions of dollars in lost productivity probably resulted from tons of slackers who watched games online or followed play-by-play "live blogging." People may think that the soccer-disinterested American workforce is immune, but at least one employer would beg to differ.

Soccer also has a ripple effect on the economy beyond labor terms. This seems like a whole lot of BS, but there are countries where "football" IS the economy, and troubles in the market might be viewed retrospectively as portents of defeat on the pitch. Even countries that are hardly soccer powerhouses could not escape serious socioeconomic costs incurred through World Cup Fever.


Excuses, Excuses, and Edutainment (free, of course)

Wow, can't believe I've already past the 100-post mark! I don't post much during the school year, but I guess I made up for it over holidays. Unfortunately, I've spent the past few weeks grading papers on criminal procedure and constitutional law, and I'm not doing it fast enough. Since I've got another 30 papers to go (which amounts to about 300 pages) and have a few more days left to finish, I've reverted to my usual one-post-a-week funk. Hopefully I'll step it up after next week.

This whole staying busy thing does have its benefits. Instead of using my free time to go shopping, I occupy myself with activities that are free and actually matter--get organized, clean, cook, watch the World Cup, etc. I don't have cable for English-language broadcasts of the games, but who needs it when I've got Univision? Granted that I only understand about 20% of what's being said, and I have to Google for some English-Spanish dictionaries, Univision is still the greatest thing since sliced bread. It helps me refresh what little Spanish I learned in high school and college, and the commentary is so much more exciting. To make up for what I missed due to the language barrier, I log onto the NYT World Cup play-by-play blog (which is hilarious) and IM my fellow soccer nut, who is living overseas but speaks my language and hears TV commentary that she can understand. Modern technology is great. It's almost like we're watching in the same room, but we won't interrupt each other's enjoyment of the game with small talk because we choose when to read each other's comment. Besides, there's no need to spend money on international phone calls, and our own in-game commentary is a whole other form of entertainment.

For those stuck at work during gametime, you can catch the play-by-play action either on the NYT blog or through live streams from ESPN360. I haven't tried it myself, but it's an option touted by many a soccer fan. If neither option is viable, you can always catch the post-game highlights on Univision's website, which are also excitingly narrated. You have to register, but it's easy to do and it's free.

Back to grading papers. Yay for me. I've had to whip out quite a few proverbial red and yellow cards, and I don't like it.