Happy Feet

As you can tell, I love wearing high heels, and I wear them quite frequently. They just make my work outfits look a lot sharper. I am generally pretty good about buying shoes that I can walk comfortably in, but let's face it, heels stop becoming comfortable after a few hours of constant walking or standing. The balls of my feet would eventually hurt from having to bear my entire body weight, and the problem is especially pronounced with the cheaper shoes (at least good leather soles feel a bit more pliable and absorb some of the shock). I generally try to make my feet last longer through good posture, putting more weight on my heels as I walk, and so forth, but I definitely need a little bit of help. As much as I like fashion, I am not stupid enough to sacrafice podiatric health for it. Potential medical costs clearly outweigh the stylistic benefits.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try a couple of things in pursuit of comfort. After spending a better part of the day walking around in my Maison Martin Margiela wedges (the lucite ones), my feet were quite unhappy. I decided to stop by a Walgreens to get a pair of $5 private label gel pads that are made specifically for the balls of the feet. While they provided some cushioning, they failed to do enough.

The next time I went to the store, I came across some Dr. Scholl's insoles that claim to take the weight off the balls of the feet. The insoles are a bit pricey ($8-10 a pair), but I thought I'd give them a shot. I figured that padding the balls of the feet is merely a short term remedy--the real solution is to shift and spread the weight. To my surprise, the insoles worked quite well...to an extent. For heels that are of medium height (2-3 inches), I could really feel the extra cushioning at the arches, which redistribute the pressure over a larger surface area and off the balls of the foot. However, for the 4-inch heels, they don't seem to do much good at all, at least on their own. When I inserted a ball of the foot pad underneath the weight-shifting insole, I instantly felt the difference. The balls of the feet became sufficiently padded, and the arch support portion is lifted up such that it finally does some work, though not quite as well as they performed on the lower heels.

I still can't say that I swear by my insoles, but they do make a discernable difference in terms of comfort. Foam insoles have been fairly useless for me, so this is definitely a step up. Because the insoles aren't cheap, I just bought a few pairs and rotated them amongst the shoes I wear. I dare say the rotation method works out quite well. Three pairs of insoles are plenty to keep the fleet of footwear ready to roll at all times.

I have heard of the roll-on sticks (look kinda like deodorant) that can be applied to the back of the foot to reduce friction, but I have not tried it yet. Those should be good for the summer sandal season.

Know of any good and affordable footwear-related products out there? Comment away.


A Cut(out) Above

Is it a boot? Is it a sandal? How about both?

[This was what I wore for a Memorial Day barbecue. When it came time to play Rock Band, I was dressed for the part. Blake t-shirt with side ties (from Loehmann's), White by Development corduroy mini ($5 from a blowout sale), Maison Martin Margiela cutout sandal/bootie.]

Some people are drawn by Jimmy Choos, others love Louboutins, but I'm mesmerized by Martin Margiela. However, in order to own anything Margiela, I have to get very lucky; it is amusingly ironic that the brilliant designs are synonymous with the figures on the price tags--some shirts are missing a sleeve, while some pants are missing a leg. I lucked out last time at Loehmann's. I got lucky again this time at a sample sale, which I didn't plan to go to, but things worked out. This is the first sample sale I've been to at which current season merchandise were offered at sample sale pricing.

The minute I walked through the door, my eyes were trained on these shoes. Although it is now the most expensive pair of shoes I own (by a small margin, "thanks" to the recent sales tax hike), it is considerably less than the heart attack-inducing in-store price (which made be gasp when I found out afterwards), and probably has the best cost-per-wear value I could get. Before dropping serious cash on them, I thought about why I wanted these shoes so much, and whether those reasons were worthy of a splurge. Although boots look great with shorts, the summer heat makes boot-wearing a rather unpleasant experience. Conversely, open-toed shoes would break up the monotony of wearing boots all the time, but sandals do not translate that well for the winter. This is one pair of shoes that truly can be worn year round. The lovely fuschia color is perfect for the summer, but it also looks great with tights and the darker Fall/Winter pallette. It glams up a simple t-shirt and jeans outfit. I knew I made the right choice when I was able to wear the shoes in all these different ways, and when I wanted to wear them all the time. It is interesting to see how other people work with this style--Jane from Sea of Shoes has a pair in seafoam green, and they look amazing with the light, flowing fabrics.

[Top: Piko top with fluttery sleeves, Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, Maison Martin Margiela shoes. Bottom: Tally-Ho sweatercoat (bought it years ago from Ross for $13, and it's still alive and kicking. Lucky Number 13, indeed), Forever 21 tunic, Target tights, Maison Martin Margiela shoes.]

These shoes have proven to be icebreakers: on the first day I wore them out, 4 complete strangers asked me about them. I guess I should wear them next time when I have to go to a party where I don't know very many people.


Forever 21?

[UPDATED 5/27/09--The whole thing came crashing down on a mistrial, which means both sides have to start the trial process all over again. In my personal opinion, I think the odds are slim for a second trial to go all the way to verdict, if it gets tried at all. Then again, people thought it wouldn't have gotten tried in the first place...]

Trademark and Copyright are definitely on the list of my favorite classes throughout my very long stint in academia (along with 20th Century American Literature, Shakespeare and, oddly enough, Physical Chemistry). They are loads of fun, but definitely not easy (copyright is particularly intricate). One of the topics we studied in Copyright was fashion, which, of course, got my attention. It was quite shocking to me that some things that seemed like blatant copying was not infringing, while certain uses of copyrighted materials, which resulted in some very different products, were infringing. Yes, it is that complicated. It really depends on how the issues are framed, and what the facts are, but generally speaking, it has been very difficult to prove copyright infringement in fashion design.

Forever 21 is an establishment that epitomizes "cheap chic." While it was not a case study in my classes, everyone pretty much knows that sooner or later, it would become one. It would have been very hard to catch the people who run it for copying designs alone under the existing state of copyright law, and so, runway- and red carpet-"inspired" styles have been made abundantly available to the masses at a tiny fraction of the cost of the Real McCoy. Most designers are irate about the inability to do anything about it (and rightly so, for the most part), and it seems as if stores like Forever 21 would be able to copy with impunity for, well, forever.

Until now, perhaps.

Trovata sued Forever 21 for copying its designs. This would have been just a splash in the pond, as Forever 21 predictably gets sued all the time for the same thing. What makes this stand out from the many lawsuits Forever 21 got involved in is the theory under which they were sued--trade dress infringement--and the fact that it got tried in the first place and went all the way to the jury. [Since I was doing edits for grammar anyway (I was tired when I wrote the initial post), I figured I'd go back to my old notes and find a definition of trade dress. It is defined as "the total image of the business." Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763 (1992). It includes the shape or general appearance of the exterior, the inside floor plan, color/color combinations, etc. (if you haven't guessed by now, Taco Cabana is a restaurant).]

I find that going after trade dress is an interesting and arguably stronger approach than plain ol' copyright infringement. Trovata claims that certain elements of their clothing, such as the buttons, stitching, stripes, etc. make them unique in such a way that people who see it would associate the clothing with the Trovata label. Hence, stealing the design is more than just stealing a design--it's almost like stealing or taking advantage of an established brand. (An oversimplification, but you get the idea.) I'm a total geek about this stuff, so I find it interesting, but I think some of the deposition testimony would be rather entertaining to the casual observer. [If you want to learn more, I found a very instructive and easy-to-understand white paper from the Morgan Lewis firm.]

So what does this mean for bargain shoppers? I don't know whether Trovata's arguments would prevail, but if a verdict comes down in its favor, it might have a big effect on copycat fashion. But then again, the case may settle and the status quo goes on, or the ruling might not do much for designs that are not associated with branding. Either way, I think it may create a short-term situation in which retailers would be a little more cautious; even if the outcome is uncertain, it might not be worth the cost of slugging it out.

In the long run, it might not matter much. There will always be accusations of who is copying who, but in fashion, many creations are inspired by others, so there will always be a place for some copying (just not blatantly). From a business standpoint, a lawsuit might be a "cost" that copycats are willing to take if they think enough people buy the knockoff to offset it. There is certainly enough consumer demand for "inspired" pieces, since many people who want to look stylish can't afford to spend that much on "the real thing."

Personally, I don't think this whole brouhaha will affect me much. I don't have a particular interest in buying knockoffs just so I can dress like a celeb or look trendy; it is my belief that people in the know can always tell when it's not the real thing, so why bother trying to pretend? However, if something in Forever 21 happens to be "inspired" and I like it, I'll buy what I like. While I may find something that resembles the "real thing," I just won't seek out blatant copies.

What do you think?


Everyday Superheroes

Yes, I wore a cape to work today. Imagine that.

Before you think I have gone completely bonkers, let me explain. I do realize that this is not typical workwear. I can see myself bringing this along with me come Summer, when it is hot during the day and cool at night. I think it will be great with a casual tank top and jeans. However, I wanted to wear my favorite shirt today with my current favorite skirt, but the rolled sleeves are too bulky for a cardigan. Also, it is simply too warm for another layer of clothing, but not quite warm enough to go without. A short cape in a lightweight fabric is actually a great transitional piece. I found this stretchy cotton cape from the kids' section at the Ella Moss sample sale sometime last year (the kid section was significantly cheaper than the grownups' line), when it was too hot to wear one. But when Fall rolled around, I completely forgot to pull it out. Now is actually the perfect time to break it in.

The big kid's cape is actually perfect for someone of my build. It's short enough to look like a 3/4 sleeve kimono sweater. The neutral color helps a potentially dramatic piece stay surreptitiously under the radar during the day. The hood lays fairly flat such that it is not readily apparent. The cape can really swish if I want to make it so; just the thought of it satisfies every whimsical dream of a secret life as a superhero. This is way more stylin' than hiding Spandex under glasses and a suit a la Clark Kent.

[Forever 21 sunglasses, Converse One Star for Target shirt (seems like all my favorite dress shirts come from Target), Ella Moss kids cape, Rachel Comey quilted skirt, L'Autre Chose patent flats in navy]


All That and a Bag of Chips (if you'd like)

It's been a while since I did a food post. After a long day of work, it is hard to get motivated to make a nice meal. Sometimes the cooking part isn't hard, but the cleanup can be very daunting. These days, the economy is a driving force toward cooking more and eating out less, or toward eating cheaper foods. Fast food burgers are quick and cheap, but they aren't always tasty and definitely aren't good for you. The more upscale burger joints turn out gourmet burgers, but not everyone can afford (or justify) the price of a $10 burger. Fortunately, good burgers can be made at home; at the price of one gourmet burger, you can feed a few people or make several meals for yourself.

Personally, I don't like to add ketchup, mayo, or mustard so that the meat won't taste bland. I prefer that the meat is well-seasoned before it's cooked. Today I like to share my burger recipe. With less than $2 worth of materials, I made enough to last a couple of meals.

I had about half a pack of ground beef (a little over $2 a pack...I can't remember the weight) in the freezer, the leftovers from making something else. I was going to save that for a chili, but I came home craving a burger today and didn't want to spend the money eating out. Since I didn't have everything I needed, I hopped over to the neighborhood market to get some romain lettuce, a tomato, and an onion (total cost: $1.13). The rest was easy.

Since I don't measure, all I can tell you is what to add "to taste." Here's what I did:

1) Quick-thaw the meat in a "waterbath" (I just don't do microwaves because the edges of the meat end up getting cooked, especially ground meat). I covered the bottom of a pie tin with a quarter of an inch of water, then I put the frozen meat package upside-down so that the saran wrap side is partially submerged in water. The water melts the ice quicker than it would have if the meat was left out in open air. Since the foam bottom of the package needs to be thawed as well, I covered the bottom of a second pie tin with water and put that first pie tin on top.

2) After thawing, spread the ground beef out in a mixing bowl. Finely chop a little bit of onions, smash up some garlic, and throw it with the meat. The trick is to add just enough onions and garlic to flavor the meat without making the patties fall apart.

3) Add a dash of pepper, some celery salt (or regular salt, if you like), a little bit of Worcestershire sauce or balsamic vinegar (keeps the meat tender and gives it a bit of flavor), a tablespoon of mustard, and an already-beaten egg (which I believe holds the meat together better).

4) Shape the patties. I chose to keep them small because of issues with the bread (more on that below).

5) Cook the patties in a frying pan with some olive oil. Sear on high heat, then let it sit in medium-low heat to keep the juices in the meat. If you have a George Foreman grill, that will save some time and possibly cut down on the fat as well, but I do think the frying pan produces better-tasting results (mmm...carmelized onions).

6) If you have burger buns, that's great. If you only have loaves of sliced bread, that's OK too. You can either eat the burger like any other sandwich, or you can use a cup to cut out a round shape. (You can save the trimmed-out parts to make croutons or a bread pudding.) I kept the patties small because I only had sliced bread, and I wanted to play around with a concept--a stack of discs. I used a large cup to cut out the bread for the base, put on some lettuce, put the patty on top of that, then smaller slices of tomatoes, then a smaller piece of bread up top. To some degree, presentation does matter. A well-presented plate made me more eager to enjoy the meal, and tricks dinner guests into thinking that you've slaved away over the stove to put together a fabulous meal.

I wish I had a bottle of red wine and some fries (or chips) on hand to go with the juicy burgers, but I was quite satisfied without them. Prep time was minimal, and while it took 15 minutes to cook it to the way I want it, I didn't really have to watch over it too much.


Lightness of Being

Today happens to be Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers, and also to those of you who are celebrating it with your moms. I hope you'll all have a great time. My mom decided to celebrate it a little earlier in order to avoid the crowds--smart move by a very smart woman.

Summer is fast approaching, and I have been rearranging things in my closet to make weather-appropriate pieces accessible. It was also time for putting things that no longer fit into the "to be donated" pile. One of those items is a sheer mesh top. I am going to miss it, but the fact is, it has always been a little too short and a bit too tight. Sheer tops like that are great for the summer when I don't want to expose all my skin to the blazing sun, yet I have no desire to be baked.

Recently I found a good replacement that is suitable for work and will work with shorts or a pair of old jeans on the weekends. I just love the diaphanous feel to it. Wearing black suits in warm weather is not an ideal situation, but when I have to do it, I may as well keep the bottom layers light; I just don't want to deal with collars of dress shirts. I love how the cris-crossed drapery stays tucked in and conservative when I want, but flaps around when I'm done with the formalities. The two crossing flaps of fabric are held up by buttons. I like that I can release the flaps and tie them up front, or just have one flap up and leave the other loose. In short, the flaps create the volume without getting all frilly and girly. I usually don't like things with logos on them, but this one is fairly discrete and (ooooh) fuzzy! My grandmother told me that I loved to knead on fuzzy blankets as a child. I practically became a child again with the fuzzy little orbs. The simple black-and-white scheme is perfect for all of my solid-colored suits.

Pictures are a bit dark, I know. Oftentimes there is no daylight left by the time I get home, so I had to get a little more creative. Thankfully, it's been better these days, as the sun sets a little later.

[Vivienne Westwood Red Label blouse (from Net-a-Porter's new outlet...the only way I can afford to get anything from Net-a-Porter), Express sleeveless top, BCBG blazer, Forever 21 pants, Calvin Klein pumps]


Thrifting Jackpot: The Others

The last 2 items I got from my big thrifting haul finally came back from the dry cleaner's. The first is going to be a good transitional staple. The second is definitely weekend-only material, and boy is it fun.

The oversized brocade coat looks handmade--it was not lined, and there were no labels. I'm a very tactile-oriented person, and the texture of the patterns is certainly interesting. I was initially hesitant about buying it because of the huge size, but once I tried it on, my doubts vanished. While it is many sizes bigger than me, it is oversized in the right way. The back drapes gracefully like a cape. It looks great belted as well, though I have yet to wear it out that way. I paired it with more modern grayscale pieces for a Friday work outfit.

[circle pendant necklace--gift, Forever 21 tunic with side twist (trust me, it looks way better than pictured), Helmut Lang slim-legged pants (still way too long, but looks great cuffed and works in lieu of leggings for a professional look), thrifted coat, Payless pumps]

The last item was something I literally picked up on my way to the cash register. I was browsing the racks on my way out with my roommate when I saw the skirt and said, "take a look at this!" A blue leather skirt. How ridiculous is that? Nonetheless, I couldn't help but try it on and found that it fits in more ways than one. It costs nearly 4 times the price of the skirt (which was $7) to get it cleaned, but I think it's well worth it because of how cool it is. Since this is obviously not office-wear, it's not something that will require that many trips to the dry cleaner's. If I can find a leather cleaner that I can work with myself, I'll save some money.

Wearing a leather skirt, especially a blue one, is tricky. Leather is very rocker-chic, so it's natural to turn to some rock-and-roll accessories, but wearing too many "tough" items at once would be overkill. Also, a blue leather skirt is such an unusual piece that it deserves to shine on its own. Since I needed to head to the hair salon for a quick trim, I couldn't wear anything fancy up top anyway, so I went with a simple black beater. I went with a couple of pieces of simple metallic jewelry, but decided to forego the boots in favor of more laid-back sandals and a straw fedora. It was a hot and sunny day, after all.

[Urban Outfitters fedora, dagger necklace made by me, Kenneth Cole cuff (bought from the Minneapolis Macy's for $5), Forever 21 beater ($1 from the FIDM store), vintage blue leather skirt ($7), Sigerson Morrison sandals]

On a programming note, I am getting increasingly busy with work (yes, on the weekends too), so if I don't reply to comments, please don't take it personal. I don't expect the frequency of posting to change that much, but if I'm gone for an extended period of time, now you know why.

Father Knows Best

When I'm back visiting my family and want to, say, watch TV or be the first to get online that day, I have to turn on a couple of power strips. When I'm done, my dad makes me turn them off, or I'd hear him grousing about it the next day. I thought it was going overboard and was a bit dismissive of the power strip thing, since it's such a hassle and it couldn't possibly make that much of a difference. But guess what? He's right.

I came across this LA Times article last week about "vampire" energy use--that is, energy that is being used up when the appliance isn't actively being used. I've always been good about turning off lights that are not in use, or not leaving on the TV when it's not being used, but I haven't been so good about taking chargers out of the power strip when I'm done with it. I'm definitely paying attention to it now.

As for the TV, maybe it's time for me to get a power strip and do what good ol' Dad does.