Take a Bow

[Edited to add close-up of shoes.]

I'm all grown up, yet I still can't resist the charm of bows. I don't wear them in my hair anymore, since I'm way past that stage, but less obvious forms of bows are unexpectedly cute and "age-appropriate."

[Marc by Marc Jacobs lop-sided bow ring, Calvin Klein slingbacks.]

The silver slingbacks are the saving grace for all of my dressy outfits, since silver goes with just about anything. The bow-on-top-of-a-bow adornment fills the visual void below the hemline or peeps just so from the hem of pants, and the silver color makes the bows glamorous instead of girlish. I bought them from DSW a couple of months to go with a rosy pink dress for a wedding, since none of my other footwear seemed to work with that color and the expected weather conditions. These shoes performed quite admirably--they continued to shine even after they got rained on, splattered with mud, and sank into the water-logged ground during the reception. After one good rinse and wipe, they were ready to go with blue dresses (i.e., for Christmas) and jeans for other occasions.

The ring is somewhere along the lines of my Pink Head Hello Kitty ring: it's almost too cutesy for adults to wear, but the operative term is "almost"--it toes the line without crossing it. I should be a bit abashed to wear such an overtly youthful accessory, but I'm not. It's shiny without being girlish, and the off-center placement of the bow just works. Quite a gem from the accessories clearance section during Nordstrom's after Christmas sale.

What do you think about bows? Do you wear them? Do you avoid them? Do you secretly wish you can deck yourself in them? I don't think anyone is ever too old to wear them; it's just a matter of finding one right for you or the particular occasion. While I don't believe in "dressing one's age," I do think time and age do influence personal style. I certainly dress differently now than I did 10 years ago, mainly due to changes in responsibilities, lifestyle, and other circumstances.


Blue Shift

There's always more than meets the eye, as the saying goes. Speaking strictly in terms of the color wheel, red would be the "warm" color and blue a "cool" color. Hence, it is easy to say that red is the color to wear for parties because bright colors evoke a burst of energy, and darker colors are to be avoided because they are too subtle. But blue is not dull and devoid of the high-powered glamour that festivities demand. Indeed, it's quite the opposite. If you look at color as a spectrum from a scientific point of view, blue light is rather high-energy because it has a short wavelength, while red is actually at a lower energy state.

As hard as I've tried to find the perfect Little Black Dress, I could not find one. I think I'm resigned to the fact that I may never find it, but that's fine. Instead, I've been finding blue dresses. Blue is subtle yet captivating. It slowly simmers with electricity.

[For the work Christmas party: Richard Chai for Target dress, vintage coat, Goldenbleu clutch (a sample sale find), Target diamond-patterned tights, D&G mary janes.]

I tried on the rose-print version of the dress here, and bemoaned the fact that I could not find the blue one. By the time I got around to looking for the clearance section of the Target website, it was all gone. Luckily, I found it in my size on eBay for a fraction of the cost, and it fits perfectly. It was meant to be. The dress actually hits right above the knee, despite what the camera angle suggests.

This Christmas seems especially cold, since an arctic storm rolled through. I've been told by several folks coming from the East Coast that when they got here, California was actually colder than from whence they came! Frigid weather like that tends to put a damper on my plans to wear a dress (I'm a warm-weather wimp). This year I didn't have to choose between warmth and vanity--while I was at Bloomingdale's to do some Christmas shopping, I found the perfectly fitting wool shift dress on the clearance rack for about a third of the original price. It has literally taken me a good few years to find a shift dress like this--something in a gorgeous matte fabric, elegant but amenable to being dressed down, classic with a modern twist. The button details on the shoulder, the subtle gathering at the collar, and the ribbon detailing on the sides and back are just perfect. This is clearly a dressy dress, either for special occasions or with a cardigan/blazer for work, but it is very easy to dress down. On the same shopping trip, I splurged on a hooded leather bomber, which has also been on my shopping list for quite some time. It is the perfect mate to the dress, among other things. Given how badly the stock markets are tanking, I dare say I can get a better return for a select portion of my year-end bonus on these two pieces than I would have if I put it in my 401(k). It's far more comforting to see the cost-per-wear ratio plummet than to witness the same for stock or cash value. (I'll leave my thoughts on deflation for some other day.)

[Diane von Furstenberg dress, Gap scarf (the gift from last Christmas that keeps on giving), Ray Bans, Michael Kors leather hoodie, Target tights, Ciao Bella booties. For the family Christmas gathering, I traded the tights and the booties for a pair of silver slingbacks with a cute bow on it.]


Last Minute Gift Ideas

[Edited because I used the word "thought" way too many times.]

I never thought I'd place myself in this position, but I haven't completely finished my gift shopping yet. That's what happens when I have to hunt down the bacon, drag it home, and fry it too. I'll be out the door soon to complete my mission.

There are plenty of heavy discounts in the retail sector as the stores try to court last minute shoppers, especially the stores slated to get the ax. The discounted items can be fairly eclectic, and I really like the idea of putting gift sets together--instead of spending money on just one thing, which may look dinky, the same amount of dollars can be stretched into something more. I am not kidding about this--this year, $40 got me a nice combination of things for 10 or 11 different people, which is a fraction of people I got gifts for, but every bit of savings helps. On top of that, a good amount of non-perishable deals can be kept for other gifting occasions later in the year.

-Fragrant candles with shiny caps look way more expensive than they are. Sometime last year, I picked some up for $3-$5. In fact, they look great enough that I am completely comfortable with giving just that one thing as a gift.

-Bath and body products are always useful, and they can easily be paired with other things for a themed set, like towels and candles and slippers for a luxe spa set.

-Some may say that gift cards show a lack of thought, but I've always been an advocate of them--the recipient can get whatever he or she wants. However, the downside is that the person will know just how much you've spent. It shouldn't matter, but in reality, sometimes it does to some people or their family members, especially when everyone are at the same gathering. I usually get around that dilemma by pairing it with something inexpensive but complementary, like popcorn and candy with a movie gift card.

-CDs and DVDs require some understanding of the recipient's tastes, but I think it would work out just fine even if there isn't enough time to do homework. Since it's free for the recipient, he or she can experience something that he or she wouldn't have picked out for his- or herself. Who knows? You just might open that person's eyes to something new and exciting.

-Make-your-own gift baskets much less expensive than the pre-packed variety. It also shows that you've given it some consideration and effort. This is probably the ultimate last-minute gift--places like CVS and Walgreen's are typically open even on the holidays, so you can literally wait until the 11th hour (though I'd advise against it) and still be hailed as that sweet and caring person you really are, but just didn't have time to express.

-Mani/pedi set. You can get a set of $1 nail polish of all different colors, and maybe throw in a nail file and some foot cream. Yet another last-last minute gift that can be put together by heading to your local 24-hour drugstore.

-Lastly, something as simple as a thoughtful handwritten note or a handmade work of art can mean more than any gift on the market. A jar of origami cranes or stars is colorful and very affordable. Once I made a bunch of origami cranes, in fairly large sizes, and used them as cards on which I wrote my thanks to each individual recipient; it was very well received and proudly displayed by the recipients, even by those I did not expect to find it moving. At the end of the day, even the ol' cynical me truly believe that it's the thought that counts.

Happy Holidays, everyone. I hope you will enjoy this season wherever you are and with whomever you keep company.


Fit to Print

Due to my work commitments, social commitments, and the general holiday bustle, I hardly had time to post. In fact, I hardly even have time to finish my Christmas shopping, and I don't think I've ever been this behind in this regard. The state of the economy is not good, but at least good deals are abound for the 11th Hour shoppers. Some of the deals are incredibly astonishing, especially from stores that I wouldn't imagine myself buying from. I'll try to finish up this weekend if I can, and if not, at least I have a couple more nights left.

I managed to squeeze in a little bit of shopping at the Ontario Mills outlet mall a few days ago. There were quite a few store closing sales, including the Virgin Megastore. I've already picked up some DVD's and CD's from Circuit City, but the discounts were not that low (just 25% for DVD's) while the pickings were slim and jumbled in a very chaotic store. The Virgin Megastore, by contrast, had 40% off CD's and DVD's, and the stock was well-organized and diverse. I ended up getting gifts for a good number of people in one fell swoop, saving a ton of cash in the process. My vision for one of the gifts is a package of DVD's, along with some snacks to go along with the movie enjoyment, so the sale was perfect.

I went into the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet with the expectation of picking up some makeup for my sister, but this was the one time when the selection disappointed me. Nothing really stood out. Fortunately, the rest of the Saks outlet had a really big sale--50% off all clearance items, including merchandise that look new and shiny as opposed to the typical half-yanked-and-beaten-up condition on things relegated to the clearance racks. Since I have plenty of solid-colored clothes, the only thing I wanted was something with an interesting print, so shopping was easy--no need to sort through the racks, just walk along and see if something pops out. Sure enough, this print dress did, at just $25. Given what it is, the silk jersey dress is a steal. It is clearly a summer dress, but I had no trouble winterizing it at all.

[Express turtleneck, Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, Mike & Chris coat, Target tights, Christian Lacroix flats (I wear them so frequently that I think I've already gotten a return out of the investment)]


Lock and Stock

Upon the expiration of my student days, I could no longer frequent the Friday sample sales in Downtown LA. I used to be able to get ridiculously good deals on samples that felt like they were made for me, plus the sample sales introduced me to the work of a lot of LA designers who are not yet household names. Even if I don't buy anything, it was still marvelous to take a look at the clothes for the aesthetics and structure.

Black Friday was the extremely rare day when I was not in the office or otherwise working. I took that opportunity to a) visit the sample sale once again, and 2) try to pick up some cool Christmas gifts for members of my family. Since it was in the aftermath of a major holiday, there were slim pickin's, but I did find a couple of very good deals that didn't break the bank.

[Revolver Los Angeles top, Da Nang jacket, Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, Christian Lacroix flats (yes, I've been wearing them a whole lot).]

The first is a top/dress (depending on your hemline preference) from Revolver, which seems to embody a casual "California" style. There was a rack of clothes with a price list of 25 dollars for tops, 40 dollars for dresses. I picked up this lightweight blue v-neck number with a simple yet striking print made of multi-colored circles. I don't know if the name of the label itself inspired the pattern, but either way, it looks really cool. The material itself is soft (2 sheer layers), and the garment as a whole is flattering, comfortable, drapes well, and just easy to wear, something I can just throw on and feel just a little more dressed-up. Other pieces on the rack were pretty and edgy, but this particular one screamed my name.

When I went to pay for it, I figured it was a tunic as opposed to a dress because it was a "bit" short. Alas, I was wrong--it was deemed a "dress" (once I got home, it all made sense), but I was charged the price of a top. Perhaps the fact that I even needed to ask struck a chord, but hemline specifications aside, I was very happy to get a great deal. I look forward to future collections, particularly pieces that could be worn in less chocharular ways.

One line that I never heard of until my Black Friday sample sale shopping was Plastic Island. The Fall/Winter collection pieces were very cute, particularly white blouses with black lace detailing. I ended up not buying anything of the newer collections, but I couldn't resist the box of $5 dresses. Like the aforementioned "dress" I got, this dress is emblazoned with a circular print as well. While the dress was panned by the "press," and the retail price would have been grossly overpriced, $5 is pretty reasonable for something that I can wear loose with a fitted jacket or cinched with a belt. It is quite a versatile piece.

[Plastic Island dress, Converse One Star for Target jacket, Sigerson Morrison sandals, Forever 21 bangles and Livestrong bracelet, Ray Bans.]

Despite my penchance for solid colors, I guess deep down, I like circles.


Bread or Circuses? Or Bread and Circuses?

If history serves as a guide, succumbing thoughtlessly to decadent desires will bring about ruin. But that's not to say that bread and circuses always spell doom and disaster. After all, we all need to eat, and given the pressures of modern life, a little bit of folly may actually be necessary to keep us sane.

Given the tough economic conditions today, everyone are getting less and less of both. Although I am fortunate to be in fairly good standing, I am nonetheless concerned about what tomorrow may bring, so I have definitely cut back on eating out. I've been bringing leftovers for lunch more frequently (including all week this week, just like the old days). I've also noticed that brown-bagging is on the rise for everyone else, just as cafeterias and restaurants have become less crowded.

In an environment where people are preferring day-old bread over the daily bread in order to save some dough, you can bet that discretionary line-items like clothing and entertainment are going by the wayside. Clothing can be optional, but sometimes laughter is still the best medicine for mental health; it may be urgently needed now more than ever. However, the last thing we want is having to make a choice between nourishment and fun. Fortunately, thanks to the public libraries, you can have your bread along with a side of the circus (sans clowns, of course).

According to the LA Times, there has been an upswing in the usage of libraries. People have been cancelling their Netflix subscriptions to save some money and checking out movies from the local library for free. I've long shunned the library for movies, since the one back in my hometown had a very lousy A/V selection. Now that I have access to a library that is at least 10 times the size of that dinky library, I should take advantage of it more often.

Unfortunately, due to the fiscal emergency in California, I'm concerned that free won't stay free for long. Either some libraries may close, or fees will be charged. Either way, libraries will still be a great source of relatively cheap thrills.


Sak'd and Pillaged

I think this article sums up what I saw at the Beverly Hills SFA over the weekend, except the shoe clearance racks I saw were a lot emptier. Apparently some SFA's had an even crazier scene.

In some ways, I think "equalizing the playing field" can be a good thing. Given the dizzying prices on designer goods, sometimes I wonder if fashion has lost its meaning. Surely fashion is defined by more than a currency symbol followed by a string of numbers, or by the hollow ring of "exclusivity." Exclusivity is inevitable (as exquisivity often comes at a great cost in materials and labor), but it doesn't have to become a mean-spirited vehicle for social competition. I won't beat a dead horse by repeating my diatribe against "luxury" status symbols, but maybe "flooding the market" would remove the ugly, elitist subtext of fashion. It might be wishful thinking that it may even part the sea of eyesores called logo-print handbags, but a girl can dream, right?

Not Your Average Plain (Mary) Jane

Over time (and many trips to the Loehmann's sales racks), my denim collection has grown quite a bit. This has enabled me to divide my jeans into several groups: some for heels, some for flats. A few for the highest heels, and most for lower ones. Although I'm pretty sensible about trimming the hem to a practical length, I did hold out on a couple of pairs of jeans and kept the inseam at its very long original length.

One pair of jeans that I never took to the tailor (or my own sewing machine) was the pair of "skinny flare" Fidelity Denim jeans, which I picked up at a sample sale for $20. They made my legs look longer, and I wanted to keep it that way. Sometimes I would fold the cuffs to wear them with flats or low heels, and sometimes I would let out the hem and wear one of the few pairs of shoes that were tall enough to keep the hem from dragging on the ground.

I just added another pair of sky high heels to my collection, which I wore with those long skinny flares yesterday. At 4.5 inches, these are probably the highest of the high heels I own, surpassing even my tall wooden platform sandals that I took to wearing frequently. However, these are not the sleek stilletos that you might imagine. To the contrary, the heel itself is very chunky, and it has an interesting brushed-metallic sheen (although the heel is really made of acrylic). And these are not the pointy toed pumps that one would picture as a high heel, either. Instead, my new shoes are a pair of patent leather mary janes with a t-strap--classic and subtle yet unexpected, just the way I like them. The elongated t-strap and the structured heel make the mary janes less skippity schoolgirl and more sophisticated schoolmarm.

I first became intrigued by these decidedly non-"Plain Jane" footware when I spotted them in the Saks Fifth Avenue online sales section. They are a splurge, but considering what they are, it was a pretty good deal--they were 70% off and under $200, which is a very significant (and rare) discount for "luxury" goods of its kind. Apparently other people also recognized the good deal, and the online store eventually sold out of those shoes. But after hearing a family member talk what good deals he got from the brick and mortar store over Thanksgiving dinner (and my family is definitely not the sort to shop at such establishments), I decided to make my first-ever trek out there to see if this was true. Indeed, the selection was better than what was online, and the pricing was pretty much the same (and in some cases, even better). I was there to try to get a new briefcase-type bag for work (because the limitations of my existing one are starting to manifest themselves), but I could not find one that was acceptably priced, so I moved on to other parts of the store.

Although the recession kept most people out of the regular-priced section, swarms of women descended upon the shoe clearance section. While others jostled over the 70% off Jimmy Choos, I kept my eye on something else entirely. Having an attraction to offbeat footwear has its benefits, as one pair of the above-mentioned mary janes in my size remained on the racks. After the shoes came home with me, it didn't take long before I put them to work, quite literally. Because the heels are so high, it took a little bit of getting used to walking in them, but once I got a hang of it, it's nice to have a pair of high heels that do not get embarassingly jammed in the cracks between slabs of concrete during my hurried sojourns to and from court.

Yesterday's casual office outfit: Old Navy twist collar top (which I picked up from the clearance section after the Black Friday Madness was over), Nave coat, Fidelity Denim jeans, Dolce & Gabbana mary janes

(Ruffles framing a twist. Almost like a pastry or something like it.)

Today: Splendid puff-sleeved tee with abstract patterns (from the most recent warehouse sale), Mike & Chris peplum jacket, BCBG skirt (which, surprisingly, I haven't been wearing with the matching suit jacket), Target dark gray tights, Dolce & Gabbana mary janes


Visions of the Present

Halloween has come and long gone, so what happened to all the things I wore for my costume? As I mentioned before, I never buy a costume for the sake of dressing up. All the components are ready-to-wear. This year's ensemble was decidedly futuristic, but the pieces also very here and now. Here are some snapshots of what I did with the clothing and accessories.

The dress:

[Old Navy dress worn as top, Converse One Star for Target jacket, Gap skirt, Givenchy wooden sandals. The necklace is one of my earliest designs.]

The tights and hairband:

[Claire's hairband, my own dagger necklace, Mike & Chris shrug, Gap knit tank, Forever 21 skirt, Express tights, Nine West sandals, Kenneth Cole bag (my everyday bag).]

Almost forgot about the boots!

[Express hat, Mighty Fine t-shirt, Mike & Chris vest, Target bag, Isko jeans, Target boots.]

The sunglasses:

[Donna Karan sunglasses, my own Chomping Through the Meadows necklace, Gap dress, Target bag and tights (with dots!).]

Here's what happened to the other pair of sunglasses that I planned to wear with the outfit but ultimately didn't. They are so sleek that I call them "secret agent glasses." It was yet another great $30-and-under find at Loehmann's.

[Miu Miu sunglasses, Old Navy blouse, BCBG blazer, my work phone. Not shown: dark jeans with gold Christian Lacroix flats]

[UPDATE: They're shown now!]