Budget Cuts

[UPDATED: see below for a better picture of the dress.]

Many of my friends chose June and July for their weddings. Hence, the age-old questions: what ever should I wear? I have a good number of dresses that I've worn for weddings already, and I've been itching for an excuse to buy another so that I won't be seen wearing the same few dresses. But that was just silly.

There was a dress that has been sitting in my closet for quite a while. It has a lot of intricate frills, which is perfect for a special occasion like a wedding. I've worn it a few times over sweaters, but it was simply a little loose in all the wrong places when worn alone. I bought it about 4 years ago at one of those crazy BCBG warehouse sales, but as I figured that alterations would not be cheap, I just didn't want to spend the money at that point. Now that I'm no longer a starving student, I can finally do something to change that. I took it to the neighborhood tailor, and she charged me $20. And now it fits! If I include the cost of tailoring, the dress would be $65. Not bad for something that originally costs $400+.

I've decided to wear this dress to go to a friend's wedding this evening, since it matches with, oddly enough, my haircut. I can't maintain long hair because my dark locks grow wayward and gravity-defying beyond a certain length. Given how hot the summers are, it's the perfect time to go in for a snip.

Although I may splurge on shoes and makeup, I feel no need to go to a more expensive salon. The cheaper places I went to have always done a fine job, and I see no need to go elsewhere. Indeed, my experience is not unique--a friend has found a great stylist at a Supercuts for $15 haircuts. Sometimes it just takes a while to find that perfect cheap place, but once found, lots of money is saved without sacrificing great hair and risking public humiliation.

When I walked into the salon a few days ago, there was a new guy that I haven't seen before. I asked for a haircut, and the new guy swooped in. I then asked how much it would be. Even though I've gotten my hair cut there before for $20 or more, I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask. I don't get haircuts very frequently, and if the price jumped higher than before and became higher than acceptable, at least it's better to find out beforehand than after. To my surprise, the owner of the salon said the cut could be done for $15; perhaps it was a trial run for the new guy, who admitted it was his first day in that particular salon. The new guy spent quite a long time shearing and snipping, and 40 minutes later, my hair was done.

I was quite happy with the shaggy cut. I've cut my hair this short before, but unlike my previous short hair experiences, I didn't feel like I looked like a boy, even when the top of my hair poofed. I was satisfied with a rather flapperish look, and given my penchance for many things vintage, that was a good thing. Later that night, I tried to figure out what I was going to wear for the wedding. To make my short hair stay feminine-looking, I thought floral adornment was in order. Then, inspired by Yulanda, I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to channel Billie Holiday:

Add a bit of a blur for that old-time feeling. You can also see more details on the dress I described above.

[Edited to add:] And here's how I actually wore the dress to the wedding (yes, I wore the flower too). The intricate ruffles are everywhere! I would have worn higher heels, but I'm sidelined by an injury. The low-heeled Issac Mizrahi for Target sandals from a few seasons ago works as a good alternative--woven straw upper with pink trim and a pink bow to match the dress. The May Company bag is vintage, thrifted from the Goodwill in perfect condition. I haven't used it for a while, and since my whole get-up is vintage-inspired, I figured it's a nice accessory to throw in instead of the usual clutch.


MAC freebie

[UPDATED: it would have helped if I included the link to the post that links to the coupon.]

If you're a MAC addict like I am, you'll rejoice upon reading this post. Then again, you might know about this already and rejoiced way before I did.

A couple of days ago, I saw this post on the Closet Therapy blog about a free, full-sized sample of MAC's California Dreamin' lipstick for California residents. As I have the good fortune of working near a MAC store, I rejoiced. Unfortunately, due to a busy schedule, I wasn't able to go to the store until today to pick up my sample. A number of other women who were in the store held the same printout I did.

Freebies, of course, have their caveats. If you're absolutely against giving out your personal information (name and address), then this freebie isn't for you. Caveats aside, I do like this pale pink shade. I've been looking for a nude shade of lipstick, but I had no luck. This one is just fine.

The offer lasts until June 30 (Monday), so if you're a Cali girl and will be near a MAC store, it's a good reason to stop by. Make sure you bring that coupon from the link above.

While at the store, I also splurged on a shiny green eyeshadow. I like green; green and shiny just makes it too irresistable. Given the price of gas, I'd rather pay that extra few bucks to get what I want right then and there, rather than driving out to the outlet mall for a possible chance to get what I want for a few bucks off. Given the staying power of MAC eyeshadows in general, at least I know that I'm getting what I paid for.


More fuel to the fire

Although I don't read much for fun these days (not for the lack of trying, just for the lack of time), I really do enjoy reading the human interest pieces in the newspapers--stories that are not breaking news, but either highlights subtle fascinations of mundane life or the "mundane" lives of incredible people. That explains why virtually all of the books I've bought or read recently are non-fiction.

I've noticed that a number of articles over the recent years focus on different "fads" in tourism, and an increasing number are driven by socioeconomic consciousness or needs. There's eco-tourism for those who would like to learn while having fun. There's "humanitarian tourism," in which people purportedly travel and do good at the same time; I'm a little leery of the momentary-feel-good motives, but I'm not going to go any further than that. There's "medical tourism" for surgeries, cheap medication, etc., which, in a sense, is a sad testament to a broken American health system.

And now, there's another form of tourism that I'd call Petrol Tourism. All of the above-mentioned varieties of tourism bear some rather highly-politicized controversies of their own, and this one is no exception. It's a very interesting read.

As usual, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

UPDATED: My roommate and I were chatting today about the same subject. She had heard a story about even more extreme measures that people take for cheap gas at the San Diego border crossing. You can read about it in the Wall Street Journal.



I normally have a well-stocked fridge because I love to cook, but ever since I got home from all that business travelling, I've become too lazy to. When I first got back, I made a few meals (you've heard me whine about how sick I was to eat out all the time). But when I was hit with a lot of work, and gas prices shot up, and food prices also jumped, grocery shopping became a chore and got less and less appealing by the day. Good thing the cafeteria in a building near my work offers relatively healthy fares in large portions for a budget-friendly price. Otherwise, I would have gained a good number of pounds by now.

Today I had to work all day again, but once I was done with the day's work, I was truly done and satisfied. I was actually excited about the prospects of spending some of that free time in the grocery store, walking down the aisles and planning my meals when a certain meat or produce strikes my fancy. Alas, the market I normally go to for such things was closed at an unnaturally early hour...maybe for good. There were rumors that the supermarket was already struggling through the bad times, and if a partnership deal isn't struck with new investors, it'll go under really soon. Perhaps the white flag has already gone up.

Feeling a little sad, I headed over to the 99 Cents store to see what cheap-but-not-cheapy grocery items could be found. I read/heard a story on either the New York Times or NPR a while back (can't remember anymore) about how the bad economy is driving hordes of people over to dollar stores, which you'd think would be great business for those stores. However, that's the wrong conclusion. It sounds counterintuitive, but it make sense once the economics were explained--by virtue of their store names, such merchants have to keep selling things for a dollar even when the wholesale prices of goods are starting to cost much more, thereby cutting into an already-slim profit margin. It's just a matter of time that the practice of selling everything for a buck will no longer be sustainable.

There are 2 options for survival--either raise the prices of some items so that they're no longer a dollar (which defeats the purpose of calling the outlet a Dollar Store), or shrink the portions but keep the price at a dollar. The 99 Cents Store I went to today apparently took the latter route. I've noticed that many of the items have shrunken dramatically in size, particularly the pasta sauces. I used to be able to get a really nice bottle of pasta sauce (which sold for several dollars at a regular market) for a buck. Today, however, a dollar gets me a squat little "trial size" bottle with perhaps a third of the former volume. Likewise, the can of chili I purchased was in a much-reduced volume from what I saw before all the price hikes.

I know that in a free-market supply-and-demand economy, every businessperson has to make adjustments to keep the business afloat. Still, the practice of selling reduced-size things for the same price first struck me as being a little shady, as it goes against the expectation of returning consumers who aren't getting what they thought they'd be getting. However, it's not like people won't notice the difference in the Incredible Shrinking Can.

Sigh...it's just a bit disappointing. My former bargain spot isn't what it used to be. But then again, economic change is a way of life. Just as we heard stories of the nickel-and-dime store, the 99 Cents Store may become the lore for our children and grandchildren.


And the bands played on...

I just got home after a day full of work and fun. After dealing with work, errands, sample sale, and more work in the first half of the day, I spent a good chunk of the afternoon catching a number of free shows in Pasadena. Too bad time was limited and I missed some that I really wanted to see, but it was pretty fun nonetheless. The first band my friends and I went to see was Dengue Fever. It was really fun. When we first got there, the crowd was a bit thin...

...but the streets filled up really quickly soon after I took this picture. Good thing we got there early, because we had the best standing room in the house (or rather, just outside of the Pasadena Playhouse):

As evidenced by the lead singer's expression, it was quite hot. And she said so. When someone from the audience shouted, "No, you're hot!", she reiterated that it was the weather. And they've got the water bottles on stage to prove it.

So I relocated to the side. Muuuuch better. I was in the shade, and the view was still great.

The funny part was how me and my friend both noticed the singer's shoes. Check them out!

It was a really good show for an hour, and after that it was time to hop over to the next one. After much walking in the blazing sun (which followed much standing in the blazing sun), we got to see the Raveonettes, with a stand-in singer for the pregnant Sharin. The music was thumpin', but the heat had already drained me by then. The place was filled with young scenesters/hipsters. I think I would have enjoyed the music more if I was up closer, but that would have put me in the sun again.

Since we were all beaten by the sun, my group headed to a bar for a bit before heading off to see Meiko. I've been looking forward to this, and it was well worth the wait. I really enjoyed the set, and it helped that it cooled down by that point.

It seems like all the female performers I saw wore dresses. Good call, because unlike the audience members, they can't really duck and hide in the shade when they feel like it. It also looks more glamorous, especially the long dress (I love the print). I, on the other hand, went with shorts and a loose top that I bought at the aforementioned sample sale. It was just perfect for the occasion--loose enough to keep me from overheating, and it just seems like something one would wear to a concert.

[my own Granny Smith Rocks earrings, Ella Moss top, an old pair of Fossil shorts, Payless wedges]

There should be more of these shows during the summer at both Pasadena and MacArthur Park (near Downtown LA). With high gas prices these days, it's a pain to pay for parking and gas on top of concert tickets. But with these free concerts, you won't have to--both locations can be reached with the Metro Red Line and Gold Line, respectively. Now, that's a real bargain.


Free and Freely

My brain gets hampered by great limitations when it comes to writing for long stretches of time, but tonight I must surpass those bounds. I have to finish something for work before dawn's early light, but after working really, really long hours for the last couple of days, I just need a little break. So, of course, I break by doing more writing. Makes perfect sense.

It's starting to get very hot these days, and it's getting tougher and tougher to wear suits. After getting soaked to the skin yesterday in a collared shirt, I opted for a light, stretchy sleeveless top underneath my suit jacket today. It's nice to wear things that lets me move freely, particularly when my day is far from being free.

This weekend I'm going to treat myself to doing something fun. In the morning, I'll head to the Splendid/Ella Moss sample sale in Downtown LA. Due to my work schedule, I hardly ever go to sample sales anymore. This would be a good one to hit for me. Ever since I got my Ella Moss dress from that same location for the work Christmas party, I've wanted to get more light, flouncy, playful yet graceful (and wearable-under-suits) pieces from the line. Unfortunately, they usually don't come cheap, so I'm glad this opportunity came up. I also like the basics from the Splendid line, since they're soft and colorful; they're easier to come by at Nordstrom Rack for a pretty good price, but a sample sale saves me the trouble of having to dig around. The sample sale will be in the 8th floor of the Cooper Building (860 S. Los Angeles Street) in the Fashion District this Friday and Saturday from 9 to 4.

In the afternoon, I'll hit the free Make Music Pasadena event in Pasadena. A number of awesome artists are going to be there. It's been a while since I got to go to a concert, so I'm pretty excited. Plus it's free!


All cut from the same oily cloth

Here's the 6th gripe about oil prices--too many things depend on oil. Including fabrics. That's right, fabric.

I finally got to hit the FIDM Scholarship Store this weekend, the first time in what seems like months. I had really wanted to get some of the quilted fabrics so that I can make padded cases for some electronics, as a lot of the fabric there was quite cheap ($1 a yard!!!). I also wanted to load up on cute prints and pretty colors to work with as I learn how to sew.

To my great dismay, the price has gone up to $2 per yard. Apparently this happened about a month ago, when the gas prices lifted off for the outer limits. Some of the cost increase is attributable to transportation, but another factor may seem unexpected--some of the fabrics actually depend on the oil as an ingredient. This is not surprising, given that a lot of what we wear are made of synthetic polymers that are generated from petroleum products. To be sure, $2/yard is still a terrific price for fabric, but when the price has literally doubled, it does feel a bit painful--instead of spending $20 like I had planned, I ended up spending about $40. I wonder when the price of oil starts to impact the price of fashion. The Forever 21's, H&M's, and Charlotte Russe's might not be so affordable anymore.

The pretty prints do offer a little consolation. The scallop-print fabric may become a dress someday. And I don't know what's with me and green--I have a couple of shades here. The emerald green fabric was very much in demand, so I had to grab a few yards before they disappeared.


Reaping what I sewed

Sure, this thing took hours to finish, and it's not perfect, but I can say I made it. I dare say it's not bad for a first made-from-scratch sewing project:

I've been saving bags full of old clothes, scraps of fabric, ribbons, buttons, and lace trims long before I knew what to do with them. One of those items is a brown velveteen shirt that I no longer wear. I love the luxurious feel and rich chocolate brown color, and I've always known that I wanted to make something out of it. Unfortunately, the edges of this soft, stretchy fabric often got eaten by the teeth that fed fabric forward as I sewed, thereby jamming the machine quite a bit. And let's not even get into the stupid things I did with the buttonhole foot and the process of sewing the button hole (or, for that matter, my uneven attempts to finish the edges with fancy stitches in lieu of the overlock foot or serger that I don't have). Given the difficulties of working with a stretchy fabric, I'm pretty proud of my end product.

Right before I made this, I repaired a top that I purchased from the thrift store a while ago, but haven't worn because of a busted zipper. The zipper foot really works wonders in seconds. I can see that this sewing machine is a wise investment already.

And the day before that, I struggled with threading the machine, particularly the bobbin. I overtightened the bobbin tension screwed and cracked a side of it, but the screw is still in one piece and is doing its job. Hopefully I won't kill the machine too soon (the bits and pieces of the fabric eaten by the machine has probably already caused indigestion problems).

Next time, I'll go back to mastering the basics using some less-complicated fabrics. It's a frustrating and long learning process, but I think it'll be worth it.


Going Un-leaded

In the past few years of blogging, I think I've only griped about gas prices like all of 5 times, and at least 3 of those are bunched up in the last few months. Small wonder--gas prices have literally jumped 5-10 cents overnight everywhere. It used to be that the suburbs would have cheaper gas, and I'd go there to fill up. However, it seems like the disparity is no more--the prices are pretty even everywhere.

On my drive to work this morning, I heard a story on NPR about the, erm, enormous lengths some people would go to squeeze the most out of their tank of gas. While I'm not about to join their ranks, that story did make me think about how I've changed my driving habits, and what I can do to get even more out of the gallon. One major change is the speed--my leadfoot tendencies are no more. Instead of blazing down the fast lane, now I'm going at the speed limit or even below it. I still gun it when I have to get somewhere in a hurry (since time is money), but for the most part, I've slowed down by at least 5-10 MPH on the majority of the trips. I doubt that I'm saving that much gas, but given that I'm paying for half a tank at the cost of a full tank from a couple of years ago, every little bit makes a huge difference.

Driving slower also has an expected but pleasant side effect--I feel like I'm on a leisurely drive when I'm taking my time. You'd think that I'd be more stressed out because it would take longer to reach my destination, but the slower drive has an oddly calming effect. Given the anxieties of the daily rush, it's nice to enjoy that little bit of unstressed time.

The "Hypermilers" story also inspired me to do something that should have been done long ago--to rid my car of those heavy bar prep books from last summer. I left them in there because they were too heavy to carry to class every day, but now they're just adding dead weight and burning more gas.

What kind of creative moves are you making to lessen the blow from the high gas prices?


Sing it, Sister

Sorry for my late responses and untimely postings. I've been out of town for work again (nearly missed my flight out), and with upcoming trial dates and multiple weddings to attend, life has been quite busy for me.

In fact, it's been so busy that this thing I bought has been sitting in a box in the living room for weeks. I've wanted it for a very long time, and I've been eyeing the prices whenever I went to Target. Finally, the price dropped by $30 (which makes it $99). I figured it was time to snag it.

Can you guess what that thing is?

I've been trying to catch the sales for vacuum cleaners, but that's not what I got.

OK, no more hemming and hawing. Here it is.

Now it's time to start playing around with this thing.


Fickle as Mercury

The weather over the last few weeks is doing quite a number of my immune system, along with the stress of travelling. It's quite a comedy of errors--I brought some colder-weather clothing to Sacramento on the first week, thinking it might be cooler at night like it was in LA. I was gravely mistaken. Hence, I left all the cold weather stuff back home over the weekend and substituted with lighter sweaters...and guess what? It became extremely gusty up north, to the point where my rented Rav4 would sway with the wind on the freeway. When I phoned the office and home, I found out that it was rainy and cold (which also contributed to those miserable flight delays), and in the town next to my home town, it even snowed!?! Given the low elevation, it took me by surprise. Hail is entirely possible, but snow is unheard of.

And now it's back to hot days, cool nights. At least the one good thing about the cooler weather is the opportunity to wear those out-of-season purchases, namely the Mike & Chris sweaters I bought a while ago. I'm an unabashed big fan of the line, since its hoodies are so versatile and sophisticated enough to be comfortable work staples. In years past, I couldn't afford half the beautiful things I wanted, but I managed to get great layering pieces. This time, I went for the investment pieces--nothing too expensive, but solid things that I couldn't afford before.

My favorite piece is the $70 trench coat. If I can wear it all the time, I would. I have always loved the trench sillouette, and when it's fitted and comfortable, it's even better. It's effortless and so classy. Cleaning it is a cinch, too--I've thrown it into the washer a few times, air-dried it (to avoid shrinking...Mike & Chris items tend to run small as it is), and it's good as new.

[Top picture: Mike & Chris coat, A Common Thread top, Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, BCBG pumps w/leopard trim. Bottom picture: Mike & Chris coat, Max Studio dress, Target tights, Gryson for Target bag, Payless shoes]

The other investment piece is an egg-shaped wool coat. I don't know why, but I just have a fascination with rounded forms. Rounded forms carry the danger of making one look rotund, but this one is just right. Since I've been looking for a coat, and I've been wanting something avant-garde (which usually doesn't come cheap), and I didn't want to spend too much money on it, this coat is just the one I've been wanting. At $100, it's warm and even more affordable than the black coat I bought earlier this year.

I also bought some fun and not quite as expensive sweaters. I've always loved the more feminine version of the military look, and this $30 double-breasted sweater with convergent buttons fit the bill. Admittedly, it's a bit difficult to wear--it doesn''t look great when it's unbottoned, but boy does it look sharp when it is. I've worn it with jeans and pumps for going out, and with slacks for a deposition. It's a fun piece that I enjoy.

I also bought a tie-neck top--not quite a bargain for $30 since it doesn't look quite as good when worn as intended, but it looks GREAT when worn as a deconstructed cardigan. I love having the tie ends just hanging loose.

What was a great bargain, however, is this jumper dress. I got it for practically 90% off. I had to pay the tailor $12 to get the zipper fixed, but all in all, $30 (including the said $12 to the tailor) is a really good price for this cute dress. I can't wear it to work, but I definitely can get a lot of wear out of it for fun. Curiously, I saw a picture of this "Johnnie" dress styled as a tube dress by one of the online boutiques. Hmm...

[Top: American Eagle t-shirt, Mike & Chris Johnnie dress, Issac Mizrahi for Target purple pumps. Buttom: Forever 21 eyelet blouse, Mike & Chris Johnnie dress, Coach flats]