Sticker Shock

During Loehmann's recent clearance sales, I found some really great deals. One of them was something arguably less practical, but it's what I've always wanted to have on hand.

Once in a long while, my friends and I would attend performances at the theater. I haven't been to the opera yet, but it is something I have in mind for the near future. Although I have various shorter-length dresses, I've always wanted a floor-length gown on hand, either for the performances or for formal events. Since it is not something I would get to wear often, I don't want to spend a lot of money on it, but I also do not want the fabric to be visibly mundane. These two criteria are clearly at odds with each other.

I usually do not take much time with the dress racks, but on one particular occasion, I did. In the process, I found a Narciso Rodriguez evening gown that was marked a size 40--obviously bigger than what I would usually wear, but because it was gorgeous and by a designer whose work I have long admired, I had to pull it out and take a look. Interestingly, the size appeared rather small for a Size 40, so I decided to try it out on a whim. It fits! The straps were clearly too long, but they were sewn in such a way that I knew could easily be removed and shortened.

When I contemplated whether or not to buy the dress, I had a case of sticker shock. The shock did not come from the original retail price--I expected it to be high, just like the numbers printed on the original tag:

Rather, the real shock was the price I ended up paying for it--it was something like 6-7% of the retail price. Of course, when the discount is this drastic, I expected something to be wrong with it. Indeed, there was a very small snag at the bust, and a small stain on the skirt, but neither flaw was obviously perceptible. What I truly love about the dress, other than the perfect fit, is the color and simplicity. While the dress appears to be a very simple spaghetti-strap dress, there is more than meets the eye. The pairing of lilac and pink is perfectly complementary, but it creates a very subtle contrast. The exposed zipper in the back, framed by a loose opening created by a layer of chiffon, adds a bit of edge to the pretty. Because the dress is not black, I know I can get a lot more mileage out of it aside from black tie events. I knew that if I paired it with the right accessories, it just might work for a non-formal night out.

After shortening the straps, which was a fairly easy task, the dress was ready to be worn for an Oscar-watching party. I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to dress down the dress and poke a little fun at the red carpet hoopla. The polka-dot shawl doubled as a formal wrap and a fun, casual scarf. A leather jacket and wedges furthers the casualization process. While the "maxi dress" is clearly still more formal than typical SoCal fashion, I think this ensemble dresses it down sufficiently for a night out without looking too obviously out-of-place.

[Narciso Rodriguez dress, bubble necklace made by me, ABS cut glass ring, Michael Kors leather hoodie, Liz Claiborne bag, Aerosole wedges.]


Pretty Little Things

Over the years, I've become quite a makeup junkie. Although makeup is not a part of my daily routine, I do have fun experimenting with colors and techniques, in the same way I do with clothing.

Getting my "art supplies" together is a rather interesting exercise. As much as I love my visits to Sephora, I certainly can't afford to shop there often. Besides, pricier makeup isn't necessarily "better"--it may contain better quality materials than drugstore brands, but a) the "better" ingredients may not be making that much of a difference, and b) they might not necessarily work well for you. It's all about being selective--deciding what requires top quality, and what will make do with less. Here are some of the variables and equations I take into consideration:

-Frequency of use--sometimes, the price is correlated to the volume of the product. Hence, one thing to think about is the cost-per-use ratio. If the particular product will be used regularly, it doesn't hurt to have a lot of it on hand. However, if it is rarely used, it does not make sense to buy in bulk.

-Mix high and low, just as we would in terms of clothing--determine which article of makeup requires the quality, and which does not; what's more important, and what you can care less about. For example, if you have sensitive skin, you may want to invest more in finding the right foundation/tinted moisturizer and skimp on the rest. By contrast, black eyeshadow is going to look pretty much the same across the board; a $1 pan of black eyeshadow is not going to look that much different from a $16 pan, unless you want extra shimmer or some kind of overtone or irridescence.

Alternately, think about which cheap items have failed you in the past--there is no use in throwing good money after bad, even if it is not a whole lot. In my case, cheap powder blush never stays on very long, so I decided to upgrade it; my Nars Taos blush, although on the pricey side, looks great and stays on for hours.

-Round and round we go--for drugstore makeup, pay attention to the circulars and shop the sales. If there is a particular drugstore product that you really want to try, chances are it will go on sale at some point. Sometimes it's buy one get one free, while other times it would be a certain percentage off. If it is an item that will last a while, I would wait for the percentage off sale instead of jumping on the buy one get one free sale--what would I do with 2 tubes of mascara? However, buy one get one free sales are wonderful for the types of makeup that could use some diversity, such as lipstick, lipgloss, blush, and eyeshadow. It's nice to get two colors at once.

-Save on the ordinary, splurge on the exotic--I'm not advocating splurging on some newfangled yet unproven technology that promises to make you look 10 years younger. What I mean is to invest on something that is practical but a bit out of the ordinary. For example, MAC has all sorts of crazy colors that are simply not available in the drugstores, so I am willing to pay more for a special color that has not been knocked off (yet). However, if I want a typical brown or beige eyeshadow, a drugstore brand will do.

-Subtle vs. dramatic--if I want an eyeshadow that is light but still noticeable, I would spend a little more on the subtle color because the more expensive eyeshadow has better staying power. With more intense colors, even the cheaper brands should have just enough pigment to last a while.

-Beauty Primer--a primer can keep cheap makeup attached to the skin a lot longer. One big problem I have with cheap eyeshadow is the lack of staying power. It creases like crazy, no matter how much of it I've put on. However, this problem is much ameliorated through the use of a primer. I got a tube of Urban Decay's primer potion for about $16, and it has worked like a charm--the cheap eyeshadow stays put, and the tube lasts a very long time.

-Tools and technique--here is an illustration of why they are important. Some time ago, I got together with a couple of friends for a Girls' Night In. One activity I suggested was something of an "Iron Chef" for makeup--we limited ourselves to a small pool of makeup that each of us brought along. A lot of the makeup I brought along was drugstore makeup, and I saw my makeup artist friend work magic with them using her set of professional-grade brushes as well as the other dinky brushes that the rest of us brought along. Having good brushes is certainly important, but the technique was what really made a difference.

The Sonia Kashuk for Target line has been touted by fashion magazines, and to some extent, I agree. I've bought a few of the brushes, and I am pretty happy with them. The concealer brush bristles are stiff enough to provide structure, yet soft enough to apply thoroughly. The eyeshadow blending brush is super-soft. I have had varying degrees of satisfaction with the other eyeshadow brushes, but I have an overall good impression of them. The brushes do go on clearance, so if you want to get something beyond the basic eyeshadow and blush brushes, I would wait for the right opportunity.


Chain Gangsters

Hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day/Presidents' Day weekend! I had a blast of a weekend in Mammoth Lakes, CA on the slopes. The very cold atmospheric conditions and a few minor injuries/illnesses had put a small damper on things, but the snow was absolutely wonderful. Here are a few scenes heading to, skiing at, and returning from Winter Wonderland:

[What I wore for the trip home: Gap stripey top, Splendid cashmere henley, cloud print hoodie from Fred Flare, COH jeans (plucked from the Loehmann's clearance racks for a very successful hemming job on my trusty ol' sewing machine), Nike airwalks.]

After each ski trip, I bring home a different set of memories and musings on things:

-My skis and bindings match my outfit. It is completely unintentional, of course, but it worked out pretty well. Being the poor student (and now young professional), I could only afford to buy my ski gear piecemeal. Making the decision to buy gear can be a bit scary, especially when it's expensive. Thus, it's important to assess at least several things: 1) your budget, 2) your commitment to the sport, and 3) which piece is the most crucial for your sport of choice given your budget range. If it is not a sport that you intend to carry on for the long run, it could be a waste to spend all that money on gear that you would likely be using for only a few times. If you are only going to engage in the sport at a leisurely pace and frequency, it might not make sense to invest in top performance gear. Just like you would calculate your cost-per-wear ratio, the cost-per-use ratio applies.

I started off with the boots a few years ago because it was a) the most important component, in terms of control and comfort, and b) it was the least expensive of the components I needed. Now that I have enough experience and know that I want to do this for a while (and finally can pony up the necessary capital), I decided to commit to buying my skis. Given the rising costs of ski rentals, and the inconvenience of having to driving around to hunt down rental gear locally (in lieu of renting at the resort, which costs even more), and the number of times I anticipate I'll be using skis, it made sense to buy my own pair. I went to a local ski and snowboard liquidator store to get a ski and binding package at about half off of retail, had the bindings installed to suit my needs, and they were ready to go. The downside to shopping at a liquidator store is that I was essentially sifting through the "leftovers" from past seasons, so sizes and styles were limited. But as long as the equipment did what it was supposed to do, who cares? These babies are far superior to the rental gear I had to contend with in the past, and that is good enough for me.

-One day passes, or multi-day passes? If this is one of your first times trying out a sport, I would advise a wait-and-see approach: take it one day at a time. Most likely, you'll find that you're a natural and want to go back for more, but it is also possible that you may regret ever giving it a go. If it is the latter, you will walk away even more unhappy if you feel like you're forced to make a difficult decision: go back and do more of what you don't want to do, or sit out and swallow the losses on the second day of the pass.

For non-beginners, the decision comes down to the sum of past experiences. If you have had a good track record for going multiple days, and the multi-day pass cuts down on the cost per day, it might be worth it to go for the multi-day pass. However, if you tend to get tired and not do much the second day (if anything at all), or if you have been prone to injury, I would advise going one day at a time.

-Whole-day pass, or half-day pass? That depends on when the prime conditions for sporting is. If the best times are in the morning, but the half-day pass does not start until noon, you may ultimately gain very little enjoyment for your hard-earned buck, especially if the conditions deteriorate in the afternoon. This would not be good if you have already spent a lot of dough (i.e., tranportation and lodgings) just getting there; in an attempt to save a few bucks, you may end up losing a lot more. However, if you only intend to work up a sweat for just one or two hours, a half-day pass would be quite sensible.

-My biggest peeve of ski trips is chains for the tires. Putting them on is not the most fun, but that is not what bothers me--what really troubles me is the 21st-century version highway robbery in the form of "chain installation services." The official-looking "chain installers" would offer to "help," but at a price, of course. The price is surprisingly steep: I have heard a quote of $40 just to put chains on, and I saw a sign for another $15 to take them off. Chain installation may seem intimidating, and can be time consuming, but it is certainly not worth $40 of labor. The only times I would be willing to pay that price is a) if I was really in a hurry and can't take 15 minutes to put them on, or b) if I have a car full of young children who could not withstand the wait without driving me crazy. Therefore, I would strongly encourage skiers and snowboarders to learn how to buy and install chains from friends and family who have done it before, or simply learn it from a self-help source.


Leaving the hood?

I don't know if this is the harbinger of what is to come, but Mike & Chris is having a huge liquidation sale on Friday and Saturday from 10 to 5 at their warehouse (4900 Zambrano St., Commerce), with a number of items expected to be 70-90% off. Here is one illustration of the anticipated rock bottom pricing.

I've been waiting for a long, long time for the leather jackets to fall to this price. Unfortunately, I'll be heading out of town for the long weekend and it is extremely unlikely that I'll have time to take advantage of the sale. It would be even more unfortunate if (gulp) it signals the end of the label; I have thoroughly enjoyed the comfort and practicality of each M&C piece I own, and I have always looked forward to the M&C sample sales to pick up new designs at an affordable price. Hopefully things are not as they appear.


Seized by the Collar

I have always been a fan of subtly unusual clothing--that is, something that looks perfectly staid, but with a detail that really stands out. I rarely buy a piece that completely screams out for attention; given the large amount of time I tend to spend in a professional setting, it is simply not prudent. However, I recently came across a dress that overcame my logical approach.

A New York-based boutique on Third Street (near Fairfax) named Pinkyotto was having a store closing sale, so I went inside to check it out for the first and the last time. I'm quite sad to see the store go, as the clothes were cute, distinctive, but still fitting for my lifestyle. Anyway, I digress...when I walked into the store, I saw one dress on a mannequin that called out my name. It felt like some kind of a deja vu moment--the dress is something that I may have seen before, and I thought it was very "me." The wide collar was the very thing that captured my attention, then other details--the tulip skirt, the plaid print, the wooley fabric--got me hook, line, and sinker. I usually deal with one standout detail at a time, but somehow all of these quirky details worked together seamlessly. I rifled through the racks until I found that dress and a few others. After I tried everything on, I determined that this dress was the only one that worked for my body.

As quirky as the dress is, it is perfectly suitable as a work dress. All I have to do was add stockings, some sharp outerwear, and a nice pair of shoes. I can imagine myself wearing it on a weekend with electric blue stockings and a pair of boots, but I will have to wait until the weather warms up. It has been cold and rainy, and a few more storms are supposed to follow.

[First outfit: Pinkyotto dress, Kenneth Cole camisole, Forever 21 cropped fleece bomber ($5 from the clearance racks last Spring), Target black tights, Christian Lacroix flats. Second outfit: Pinkyotto dress, Target gray tank with metallic silver threads, To the Max jacket, my own Chomping Through the Meadows necklace, black tights, Ciao Bella peeptoe booties.]


"Money can't buy me love..."

Valentine's Day is coming up, and people everywhere are making plans. It might mean flowers and chocolate for some, a getaway or nice dinner for others, or just something plain and simple but meaningful. However, the holiday might be a source of consternation, especially in this economic environment. Love really can't be bought (if it was the purchased kind, then there's a problem), and it is a little disconcerting to think that it takes a pre-set date on the calendar to get someone to make an effort to show the significant other some appreciation. Nonetheless, it is a nice day to do something special. Given how consumed many people are with the financial crisis, it really is important to put that aside to care about and support the person who really matters.

The LA Times has a nice little feature for 8 great 3-hour dates on a $25 budget. Even for those who are not from the LA area, the ideas could be adapted for local specialities. I think that a good time can be had for little or even no money at all, but I do think it is important to put in some thought and care into making the day special--a combination of attentiveness and savvy savings is hot, but focusing on going cheap is not.