Holes in the Night

As life got crazy and daylight became scarce, photo projects do not fit into my schedule very well. This weekend opened just enough of a window for something fun.

Since it is Winter after all, the temperatures have been understandably low. This week and weekend was unseasonably warm such that we had 70-80 degree weather. Although I have much work to do, a chance to take in a little sun was too good to pass up, so off I went with friends for a bit of food and fun.

The cutout is a design feature I've been digging lately. I didn't think I'd be able to wear my very summer-worthy tank top for a while, since I snatched it up at a heavy discount during the off-season, but today was as good a day to wear it as any. To polish off the hole-y theme, I paired the "business in the front, party in the back" top with cutout platform pumps that need to be broken in a little. They actually don't need that much breaking in--they are fairly comfortable.

Alas, daylight is fading, and it's time to get industrious. With today's great weather, it's a wonder that anything gets done at all.

[Under.ligne by Doo.ri Harness tank (from Tobi.com clearance), F21 knotted chain necklace, ABS glass cocktail ring, old Ray Bans, H&M shorts, Calvin Klein Christine cutaway pumps]

Happy Holidays, everyone!


Practical Magic

Happy Halloween! Since All Hallow's Eve lands on a Sunday this year, much of the festivities took place last night. As usual, my costume consisted of regular clothing plus some props that I either buy or make.

I picked a tough assignment for myself this year. A couple of the props were easy to get, but the clothing part was a bit more challenging. I tried to find a cheap tuxedo jacket with long coat tails, but I had no luck even after hitting multiple thrift stores. As for the hat, I needed something that fits my small head just right; in the time it would have taken to drive around and find one, I may as well make one for myself.

Some people at the party last night thought I was a ringmaster...I guess they didn't see the magic wand, which lit up and doubled as a beacon for navigating with friends through a crowded venue.

[Old Navy shirt with ties, Development blazer, F21 sequined shorts, Falke fishnet tights, Marc by Marc Jacobs heels, top hat made by me, magic wand and gloves from Halloween costume store]

The hat tutorial will be posted next time. :-)


Holed Up

Just when I thought the rain stopped for good, it starts up again. Fortunately, before the rains resumed, I spent much of yesterday out and about and soaked in some sun along the Pacific Coast Highway.

I managed to hit two birds with one stone yesterday. Before heading up the coast to a friend's party, I decided to pay a visit to the LF Warehouse Sale, which I've heard about many times but never did go because it required a bit of a drive. It wasn't until yesterday that I had a good reason to be out that far west, and the trek was worth it. As it is often the case with warehouse sales, entropy rules the day, as clothing and accessories that were previously in nice neat categories become scattered all over the place by the end of the day. After an initial look at the jumbled mess and seeing many styles that just weren't mine, I didn't expect to bring home anything. However, the dressing area scored brownie points with me, and I did find a few gems after a little digging and making several rounds about the tables. $7 for a pair of Falke tights--not bad. Sweaters and jeans were also very reasonably priced, as were leather goods. I snapped up some tights, a shiny sequined scarf, knit gloves, a sweater, and a pair of high-waisted shorts.

This morning I awoke to a bit of sunshine and lots of clouds--the perfect shorts-and-tights-with-long-sleeves kind of weather. It so happens that 2 things I bought yesterday would work for that kind of a look. I left the house for a bit for errands, came back, and was holed up again when it started raining. When will it stop raining?

[Rebecca Beeson long-sleeve tee, Millau sweater (from LF Warehouse Sale), Car-Mar cuffed shorts (from LF Warehouse Sale), Target tights, Loeffler Randall studded slingbacks.]

It's funny how I love this sweater now, when I completely eschewed something very similar to this as a teenager. Oh, how times have changed...


Weekday/Weekend: Mack the Knife

"Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it … ah … out of sight."

Roughly-cut edges of drapey pieces are fun to play with--they add great dimension to everyday pieces. Overlaping drapery is even more fun.

The Marciano drapey sweater that I found at the Marciano outlet during the summer has been in the rotation quite frequently, since "Summer" this year in Southern California didn't get a whole lot of sun. More recently, I added a very soft Wyatt "Sharkbite" tank top to my collection. Although I intended to wear the tank top as a casual piece, it worked surprisingly well with the drapey sweater for work--the ensemble looked put together, creative yet sufficiently conservative, kept me warm, and was very comfortable.

[Weekday: Marciano cashmere-blend sweater, Wyatt "Sharkbite" tank (from Bluefly), Balenciaga skinny pants (from Barney's warehouse sale), Christian Lacroix gold flats (from DSW), Marc by Marc Jacobs pave pear watch (from Fossil outlet)].

Now that it is supposed to be Fall, scorching weather has arrived. The weather has been bizarre to the point that some people ominously refer to it as "earthquake weather"--as in the weather is so strange that the next "big one" is sure to hit soon. Fall started with hot weather, followed by a few weeks of light rain, pouring rain, thunder and lightning, flash showers, and cool weather, and is now back to hot weather again. Given that we are back to having hot weather, it was time to wear the Sharkbite tank as intended.

[Weekend: Wyatt "Sharkbite" tank (from Bluefly), F21 skeleton key necklace, Gap striped denim shorts, EQ IQ platform ankle boots, Marc by Marc Jacobs sunglasses]

Although it can be fairly hot, it is the right time to bust out the ankle boots. I swooped these off the clearance rack in Hong Kong last year from a Causeway Bay store aptly named "Sole Town," and am happy to take them out of the dust bag again. They are simple but a bit sassy, thanks to the high heel and the zipper/button detail in the back.

Hong Kong is definitely a great place to pick up interesting pieces. I got some pretty cool stuff last time, and I'm looking forward to shopping there again.


Splitting Hairs

It was time for me to get a haircut again. When it gets colder, maybe I'll let it grow out, but while it can still get hot during the day, I'd rather keep my hair as light in terms of weight as possible (black hair absorbs so much heat sometimes).

Right now is the best time for me to play around with Fall outfits involving shorts and boots. The temperature cools down quite a bit in the evening, but not enough to make me cold as long as I wear something warm up top. For a Sunday evening of standing in line with friends for eons before our patience would be rewarded with the most delicious ramen from Daikokuya, I decided to wear this:

[Miu Miu sunglasses, Minden Chan cropped jacket, Tart long-sleeved tee, Argento Vivo necklace, H&M cuffed shorts, Calvin Klein stockings, Capezio boots.]

This is actually a variation of what I wore earlier that day, before I swapped a black tank top for long sleeves and slipped on the tights. The wool-blend cropped jacket is a bargain that I picked up a while ago from the FIDM store. When I bought it, I fell for the amazing details and saw a lot of potential, but for one reason or another, I just didn't get to wear it quite so much. That is about to change.

The collar is amazingly cute, but not too much so, since the Peter Pan collar folds into a grown-up form in the front. I just love how the zipper in the back extends and dovetails at the very end. Since the jacket zips up in the back, starting from the very top, it also somewhat resembles a straitjacket (which doesn't sound appealing at all, but I appreciate how easy it is to take off the jacket during a red light stop when it started to get hot in my car).

Fall weather also means it's time to bust out the interesting stockings. This particular pair will get quite a bit of use during the weekdays as well. I should try it out tomorrow.


Rising in Fall

Life, with its ups and downs, is a continuing struggle. We won't ever learn how to get up if we don't fall down first. We won't toughen up if we don't take a few hits first. Sometimes we won't know what's really harmful to us, or know how to heal from the resulting wounds, without getting hurt first. It's all a learning experience. One thing is for sure--we do not remain fallen for long. After a trip downwards, we realize that we CAN get back up, that we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We learn, we heal, we survive, and become stronger than before.

In Southern California, the mercury usually rises in September. This year, it has been uncharacteristically cool--a welcoming change for me. Now that some semblance of my favorite season is here, and now that my life is somewhat back to order, it's time for me to dust myself and my layering pieces off, and rediscover what it means to be creative. Being creative was difficult when I had no time or mood for it, when the heat leaves me little options than shorts/skirts and tank tops, and when much of my clothes and possessions sat in boxes for weeks. Now that most things have been unpacked, I can explore my new surroundings as well as new ways to mix up my wardrobe. It also feels good to be exploring photography and photo editing again.

My work outfits have been largely uninspiring, as layering was impossible during the hotter months, and I wore only what I could easily find. Today's outfit is finally something along the lines of what I really want to achieve--an integration of colors, shapes, patterns, textures, and sophistication. It is quite ironic that my favorite cool-weather items--the stockings and the cashmere-blend drapey sweaters--were found during the hottest months. It makes perfect sense that they were found at outlets, since no one would have been thinking of buying something so out-of-season. While the drapey sweater has been my go-to piece for the office and for air travel, I couldn't wear the awesome patterened stockings until today.

Being told today that I look like a fashion model was kinda neat. :)

[Marciano by Guess drapey sweater, F21 faux-wrap dress, BCBG necklace, American Eagle Outfitters ring, Calvin Klein patterned stockings, D&G mary janes]


Trials and Tribulations

My dear readers,

I've travelled both near and far to 2 different countries within 30 days. Who would have thunk that? I would have posted more pictures of my travels, but unfortunately I'm in a rather busy and rough patch of life right now. I just need to take some time away get my groove back, and then I'll be able to get back to doing what I do best--take pictures and tell stories.

Be well!



What better way to unwind than to watch the sunset with a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos (con limon) and a drink carried in a traditional men's basket? (Yes, you heard right--a man's basket. Kinda like a man bag, but way cooler and culturally-significant.)

Stay tuned for more scenes and stories of the island of Yap in Micronesia. Although brief, it was by far the most relaxing vacation I've ever taken. I can't wait to go again. I probably won't be able to go again, but it'll always be a memorable experience.


Programming Note

In the month of June, I'll be pulling a disappearing act again. With 3 trial dates in as many months, and 2 brief trips out of the country in that same span of time, I'm gonna be pretty busy. I have no idea if I'll do any June posts, and if I do, whether it'll be at all relevant to the general subject matter of this blog, but one thing's for sure--you'll be seeing pictures of an exotic location in the near future.


Ring Ring...

Although the Internet offers wonderful possibilities for staying in touch, there is no substitute for the human voice. Emoticons just don't always do the trick, and it's hard to get irony/sarcasm across through words on a page. There's just something warm and fuzzy about hearing laughter, varying tones, softness, and depth.

When the person you are trying to connect with is half a world away, staying close is hard to do. Fortunately, Skype and popular chat programs like Google Chat allow people to hear as well as see each other, which makes a world of difference--no more accidentally talking over each other on the phone, because we can rely on non-verbal cues to know whose turn it is to speak. But what happens when a) one person doesn't use a computer, or b) an Internet connection isn't available?

Yes, the latter is an actual possibility even today. There ARE places in this world where an Internet connection is hard to come by, or doesn't come cheap, or doesn't come fast enough for video. So what happens then?

Dialing international long-distance through the landline can be prohibitively expensive. Phone cards can cut down on the costs, and certain other third-party phone companies charge reduced rates when you dial their prefix before dialing the international phonen number. With the use of these services, the cost of calling countries with generally good telecommunications networks is in the range of pennies a minute. However, there are situations where some less-popular calling destinations are still quite expensive to reach through these methods.

This is precisely what happened to me a few months ago. I had to turn to the Internet for Voice over IP (VoIP) options, whereby the calls are routed through the Internet. Skype did allow me to reach a landline phone via the web, but the rate was still quite high. I dug around to find a few more VoIP phone services for the lowest rate of my calling destination. Although there are quite a number of them out there (i.e. Jajah), I ultimately chose Jaxtr because, well, it was the cheapest for where I wanted to call. The added bonus is that I don't need a computer to make my VoIP calls--I can get through by calling a local number (even on my cell phone), dialing in the international number, and then chat away. In order to get the lowest rate, I had to subscribe to their monthly plan (which was 35% cheaper than their non-subscription rate). It didn't matter much to me because the savings was quite substantial, and because I use up all of the minutes I bought anyway.

Fortunately, the person on the other end of the line now has a reliaible Internet connection at home--still not as fast as the standard U.S. DSL connection, but it's good enough for Skype, so I get to cancel my subscription and save a ton of money. Nonetheless, the experience was a valuable one. It opened my eyes to the various options, and it also makes me appreciate the technology that I do have access to every day.


On a Slant

The weather in LA was on a mood swing in the past month. One day it's cold and rainy, the next day it's 80 degrees. Now that May is here, the warmer weather appears to be here to stay. Time to bust out the lighter layers and go with the shorter haircuts.

It has been in my habit to test the boundaries of work outfits, but I really pushed the envelop this time with an element that is very apparent and way outside the realm of businesswear. Over the weekend, I stopped by the Calvin Klein outlet at the Citadel because a) it was on my way home from Orange County, and b) I've had much luck with finding affordable and stylish work separates there. An outfit on a window mannequin caught my eye--once I spotted the tissue-thin aqua blue tee bifurcated by a diagonal seam, I was sold. It helped that the shirt was further on sale, but I would have bought it even if it wasn't.

I've worn t-shirts under blazers before, but this one is far afield from the others. The t-shirt-based cut is at once casual and the opposite of run-of-the-mill, thanks to a mix of color, texture, and structuring. The lightness is perfect for the summer. Although the shirt itself is very sheer, the burnout pattern makes the sheerness far less apparent (at least on my skin tone), thereby eliminating the burden of having to wear an additional camisole. I love how the fabric gathers and drapes on both sides of the asymmetric seam, which stands out boldly with its raw, rolled-up edges. It also helps that the slanted detailing matches my new-ish haircut, so everything looks somewhat integrated.

[Issac Mizrahi for Target cardigan, Calvin Klein top, Stella McCartney cropped pants, Abaete for Payless pumps, Kenneth Cole cuff]


Ties that Bind

Thank you so much for your comments! I'm so happy that you enjoy reading the blog, and I'm certainly happy to be back.

I've been rather dressed up for the last couple of Fridays, so it's nice to go with a more casual outfit this time. The town where I work now is far more populated by business attire, so I have to look a little more refined (even on casual days) to fit in.

Given the fact that I have to save up more money these days for my upcoming travels, among other things, I haven't really bought anything new for the last few months. However, when I ventured out for a friend's birthday party last weekend, I got a few things. One much-needed item is a thicker sweater for work. The cotton open cardigan that I picked up from the Gap (with a 30% off discount) is quite warm. Fifty bucks is a lot to pay for a cotton knit sweater like this, but since I've tried to find a cheaper alternative but couldn't, I just gave in. It is a pretty good investment, I dare say, considering that I've been wearing it practically all week.

The tank top is from Forever 21. Although it appears to be a casual piece to be worn with leggings, there is quite a bit of sophistication to it. I love how the elastic bands are cris-crossed in the front as well as the back. Considering that this is a "cheap chic" piece, I'm impressed by the fact that the bands do align and connect on the sides such that they appear to wrap all the way around.

Since the colors of the outfit are rather low-key, I decided to liven things up with a neon-colored bracelet-watch. I bought this from the Cabazon outlet just before Christmas and have worn it before, but this picture captures the color more accurately. It really pops out against an all-black business outfit as well.

My favorite accessory at the moment is my big ol' Calvin Klein electric blue satchel. Not being one to switch bags every few days, this has been my daily staple for the last few months. I also got this bag just before Christmas, when the Calvin Klein store in the Beverly Center was having a closing sale and everything was 75% off. Although the faux-leather material isn't all that sturdy (there are a few cracks where the bag tends to crease), this bag holds everything, and the color is just gorgeous. One comment I get the most is "that bag is so...blue." Although it sounds rather hesitant, most people I've talked to seem to like it because it is at once an unusual color and a great fit for all the grays, blacks, and blues that are prevalent in businesswear. You'll probably see this bag until it finally wears out, but I've gotten quite a lot of use of it for $40, and there's still has a mileage left.

[Outfit: Gap cotton knit cardigan, F21 tank, Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, Bloch London flats, Marc by Marc Jacobs bracelet watch, Calvin Klein bag.]


The Show Will Go On

Hi Everyone! The next to the last time you heard from me, I was trying to decide the fate of this blog. A lot was going on in my life at that time, and a lot more was expected to go on in the ensuing months, so I decided to take a break.

As you can surmise from the title, I decided that I will keep blogging.

A lot did actually happen in the last few months, some fairly significant life changes, in fact. There were some things that needed my more immediate attention, since there was a very finite amount of time for it. Now that the changes have occurred, and I'm trying to adjust to life in the "aftermath," I'm trying to regain a balanced life. It will have to start with getting back into all the things that I once enjoyed doing, such as crafting, various hobbies and activities, and of course, blogging.

The theme of living stylishly in an affordable fashion won't change. However, I will be shopping a lot less, as I have more important things to save up for now. There will still be plenty of material to write about, since I did pick up a few things months ago and never got a chance to write about it. There'll be a renewed focus on trying to carve out a personal style in a professional setting, and now I'll have a new and brighter location to shoot pictures in! There will also be more posts about travel, as I will be doing quite a bit of that in 2010. Most trips will be short, but the one at the end of this year/beginning of next year will be longer.

Thank you so much for all of your support. Here's to new and exciting content!


RIP, Yulanda.

I'm still trying to process the sadness and shock that came when I found out that one of my favorite bloggers, Yulanda of Little Thoughts, has left us. She was only 28 when she lost her battle with cancer.

I first became acquainted with Yulanda through StyleDiary. I was hooked on her style--a mix of feminine, interesting pieces with great use of colors and patterns. When I learned that she started a blog, I begun to follow it religiously. That's when I learned that she was such an amazing photographer on top of being a creative fashionista. She was also quite the foodie--the food posts have everyone admiring and salivating. Without a doubt, Yulanda inspired me to explore new ways to approach fashion as well as photography. I don't think I would have thought of doing "jump" shots or learn to tell a story with pictures if I did not come across her blog.

Even though I never met her in person, I felt that she was a very sweet soul from our back-and-forth comments and messages. My deepest condolences go out to her loved ones.


Suspended Belief

I think this is the longest period of time that I've gone without posting ever since this blog started. I'm still around! There's been a lot going on in my life--some good, some bad, others somewhere in between. I still have plenty of material to post about, but it's hard to find the time to take pictures and write about it. Quality control matters to me (even if the blog is just for fun), and I would hate to slap something together just for the sake of having something to post about.

Simply put, there are a few things in my life right now that will have to take priority over blogging, at least in the next couple of months. I never thought the day would come, but I now have to contemplate whether to continue this blog. I haven't lost the zeal for blogging, but doing a good job demands much time and effort. If I decide to continue, it may take a new direction, it may not...I just don't know right now. Future posts may involve a lot more words and fewer pictures, which may not be everyone's cup of tea. All I know is that I'm not ready to shut it down at this point. In any event, I think the long break has been good for my off-line life. Once I get a new GorillaPod for my camera (the pod is currently broken), it'll also make it easier to take pictures. There are a few upcoming opportunitites for some cool posts, such as a picture-taking expedition around the city. I'm looking forward to it!

Whatever I end up deciding to do, I want to say Thanks to everyone who have been reading. I really enjoy interacting with all of you and reading your blogs. You guys are just amazing. Thanks!


X-ray Vision

I haven't done outfit posts for a while...my GorillaPod kinda broke and I have yet to buy a new one. Not to mention I've been coming home at the end of the day with no energy to speak of. Hopefully I'll pick up the pace soon.

I've never been into wearing anything approved by Jolly Roger (I find them a bit macabre for my tastes), but the scientist in me just couldn't let go of this find from the H&M Boys section. For one, it's much cheaper and more practical than the Rodarte for Target sequined ribcage dress, which appears to be available no more. The sweater is also surprisingly soft and comfortable. I ended up getting another sweater (much more work-appropriate one) from the boys section too, but it's in the laundry. Maybe next time...

Hebden, who incorporate the skulls ever so skillfully in her outfits, inspired this one, which was worn sometime in December when it was a bit chilly but not that cold:

[H&M Boys sweater, Marc by Marc Jacobs neon yellow watch, Geren Ford shorts, J. Crew wool tights, Bloch London flats.]

While I was Christmas shopping at the Fossil outlet in Cabazon, I came across a bunch of M by MJ watches, including the fruit ones that I thought was long gone! They weren't cheap, but they were much, much more affordable than the full sticker price. Since they had a promotional deal, I went a little crazy with buying watches. I gave a white guitar-on-a-chain watch to my sister for Christmas, and she loves it, so it worked out. =) This neon cuff watch is just what I need to perk up all that black I've been wearing--it's bold, but not too wacky for work.


The Long Run

Happy 2010! May a new decade bring positive changes and strengthen lasting bonds. I still can't believe that it is now Year 2010; it seems like one of those years in science fictions from long ago that would never arrive. We still use roads, fossil fuels, and don't around Jetson-style in pods yet, but technology has been developing on an exponential curve, so the fictional visions of the future may become reality sooner than I think.

A lot of people make New Year's resolutions, which is good--it gives some goals to work toward. Not all of them may be fulfilled, but we all need some impetus to get started. Here are a few of my resolutions (in no particular order), which I hope will last beyond just this year:

1) Become more financially savvy--I'd like to think I do pretty well in saving. However, there's always room for improvement, and it's important to do more than just save. Given the uncertain economic times, and unexpected expenses, it's good to have a good financial cushion around. It's not just enough to save put money into a 401(k), which tanked for a lot of people. In addition to the retirement accounts, it's important to build up savings that is readily accessible.

Once a particular savings goal is reached (say, a year's worth of living expenses), the next step is to learn how to make some of that money work a little harder. That's something I really need to learn to work on. A savvy friend of mine recommended Motley Fool as a resource to start with. Now that the markets are starting to recover, it is as good of a time to think or rethink investment strategies.

2) Evaluate and/or revamp habits and customs--it's easy to fall into bad patterns without knowing it, especially when there are competing priorities. It's important to notice what's been going on, what's been going wrong, why it's been going wrong, figure out the root of the problem, and replace the bad patterns with good ones.

In the last couple of months, I've noticed that my eating schedules and habits have gone awry, I've practically stopped exercising, gotten a bit nonchalant about getting things done/getting to places on time (which is really not me), just stopped caring about many things in general (like watering my plants), etc. Most of these problems stem from being tired, and sometimes sick, which eventually lead to laziness and apathy. A very basic way of fixing the problem is simply getting regular and comfortable sleep, which often went by the wayside on my quest to do as much as possible with what little time I have. Sleep is not a waste of time--it's quite essential. Without energy, discipline and willpower will eventually wear away.

3) Exercise--my Wii Fit is completely underutilized. I need to pop in fresh batteries and start getting on that thing again.

4) Learn when to take a break--this has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. I've always known one speed in life, and that's fast and furious. However, life is a marathon, not a sprint to the finish; there will be no victory lap if the tank is out of gas. Since there are no summer or winter breaks in the life after school, it's up to me to learn when to schedule in vacations and use them wisely.

5) Edit my wardrobe--the growth of my closet has finally hit the hilt of rate-determining factors called time and space, which seemed infinite until now. There's no more room to store things, and there is an inversely-proportional amount of time to look through all the stuff I have. This means I need to reduce my inventory of casual things that I don't wear much anymore (I'm not a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl anymore), be more selective about things I acquire, and replace worn-out clothing with quality, professional pieces that will last for a long time. Given my professional development, it seems like my style has changed permanently from "all kinds of crazy" to "subtly grown-up with a few funky elements."

Editing is easier said than done. I've been clinging to the idea that one doesn't have to choose between quality and quantity--which was fine and all until a certain point. I think the space factor pretty much disproves my theory, much to my chagrin. If my days as a law review editor taught me anything, it would be to preserve as much of the author's intent and underlying character of the piece as much as humanly possible, while tossing out excessive words or florid language that distract the reader from the main point. Translated into sartorial applications, it means figuring out what my style really is (which I've done), and getting rid of things that really don't fit the bill.

I've been paying more attention to the frequency with which I wear certain things to determine what the true closet staples are. Those are the ones I'll stick with for years to come and worthy of investment. Here are my observations:

-One can never go wrong with leather (or pleather)--my leather hoodie gets worn the most because it goes with everything. It doens't hurt that the jacket has garnered the most compliments of anything I've worn.

-One must also have a pair of well-fitting black bottoms--they go with everything. My black slacks get worn the most during the week, while my black faux leather leggings are worn practically all the time on the weekends during these colder months (ironic given the fact that I've eschewed leggings for the longest time). My black wool tights allows me to wear practically any sort of dresses, skirts, and shorts these last few months.

-Long- and short-sleeved T-shirts in a couple of colors, patterns, and cuts will do wonders. My fitted gray Gap crewneck t-shirt is perfect with cardigans and blazers for work, and goes with literally everything I wear on the weekends. A slouchier v-neck t-shirt in a lighter color is great for a more casual weekend look. A few graphic t-shirt breaks up the color-block humdrum. That's pretty much all I need.

-Signature accessories--in a professional setting, accessories provide personality to otherwise standard fare. I wear fairly bland colors because it's easy, safe, and classy to do so, but I don't think I ever look boring. In the winter months, scarves are my friends. My black and white Gap scarf with bold stripes, which I got as a gift, is one of my best assets; it keeps me warm and looks great year after year. I have a few vintage scarves for the summer as well. Patterned and/or colored hosiery, ranging from subtle and loud, definitely add a pop to any outfit. Various combinations of jewelry can make varying degrees of impact, whether in the form of a single statement piece, a stack of mix-and-matches, or a few simple pieces together.

-Great shoes--the importance of great shoes can never be understated. People do notice these things, as shallow as it seems. They don't need to be expensive at all (plenty of my shoes come from Payless or Target), but they have to look solid and feel comfortable. It's hard to go wrong with patent leather (real or faux), even for the cheap ones (at least initially; they look great until they get scuffed up). While the stilettos are sexier and more artsy, the real workhorses are the ones with the thicker but not too chunky heels.

On my trip to Hong Kong, I had to pack for occasions ranging from formal to casual, and I narrowed down the essential footwear to 4 pairs: a pair of black Marc by Marc Jacobs mary janes with a shiny star and martini heel (for the formal occasion), an old pair of black knee-high boots with a blocky heel (to go with practically everything), a pair of classic flats in white with black captoes (for a dressier outfit on a day that requires a lot of walking), and a pair of blue and yellow Nikes (for a casual outing). Ankle-length boots are also great to go with slacks for work or something shorter for play. Not that I'll kick my shoe habit anytime soon, but I do recognize that if I really have to limit myself to as few pairs of shoes as possible, these are the true "needs."

-A good shift dress is a must. My blue DvF wool shift dress goes with everything--blazers and cardigans for work, leather jacket, boots, and a funky scarf for weekends.

-One or two good bags--a chic bag in a medium size, with some structure (either a tote or a satchel), and solid classic color (black, something neutral, blue, or dark red), without bells and whistles, will carry you everywhere. If it has an additional shoulder strap that could be readily put or or removed, then all the better.

-A good coat, a few cardigans, well-fitted blazers, light-weight silk blouses (in solid colors, a few bold prints, and a couple with asymmetric details), and undergarments (of course) round out the true "essentials."

What are your goals for life and style, for this year and beyond? Any particular essentials you can't live without? Discuss.