Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Another Summer Almost Ended...

It's been so long since I posted, I had to reset my password because I'd forgotten what it was! Apologies! I will try to be more diligent in my postings. I've been so busy this summer, and the weather has been so beautiful, that I've not only not really spent any money on clothes, followed trends, checked out sales, or even bought more than a couple of pairs of new shoes! (yes, that says more than anything right there!)

For those of you who might not know, Rik and I spend about 8 weekends every summer going to the Colorado Renaissance Festival in Larkspur, Colorado. We get up on a Saturday morning around 7a, throw on clothes we don't wear anywhere else, and drive the 90 minutes or so to the other side of Denver where we then get out of the Jeep, Rik puts on a sword, his hat, and a few other finishing touches, and then cinches me into my corset choice of the day. There is something about dressing like this that brings out a female side of me I didn't realize I had until we started doing this about three years ago. I haven't exactly been able to quite put my finger on it yet either, and wonder even as I'm typing if I'm going to end up trashing this post before I figure it out!
I'm not one of those women who were fortunate enough to be blessed by the gods with curves...hips that sway when you walk, tiny little waist lines, a bust over which I can't see my actual stomach...I got the long legs (35" inseam) and the height which is a different kind of 'blessing' I suppose. It seems to me that when women started to get away from wearing dresses all the time, we may have lost a little bit of femininity...just a little bit. Not that we don't look lovely and girly and NOT MALE when we leave our homes. But there's something about putting on a huge taffeta skirt, with another gorgeous, ruffled skirt over the top with that bright taffeta just peaking out from
underneath...hearing the rustle of the fabric as I walk, picking up the hem when I go down stairs...putting on a corset with steel boning that makes me stand up tall and straight and shows the girls off like you wouldn't believe! (Even those of us whose 'girls' never reached the full potential we once hoped they would!) When the last grommets have been threaded and the bow tied, the ends tucked into the top of the corset and adjustments made to breasts I rarely see in quite the same way,I look in the mirror and see a woman. She's lovely! And mysterious... She has curves my usual clothes don't always show. And the eyes that look back at me seem just that little bit foreign. When the summer is over and the fair season ended, I'm always a little bit sad putting away those gorgeous fabrics and rich brocades, as if I'm packing away a little bit of myself that only gets to come out for a few weeks a year. I wish I could share what this actually feels like to those of you who might never get the chance to dress up like this. It's as good as a new pair of shoes (again, that says a lot coming from me!) I've yet been able to find an excuse to wear my favorite ensemble to my office, but I'm working on that.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Wardrobe Essentials: How To Build a Foundation For Your Best Work Wardrobe

As I've mentioned before, when I first began my current job almost a year ago now, I literally had one pair of pants, two shirts, and a blazer.  I was totally unsure what my own personal style was, not to mention how I was going to acquire the clothes that I needed for the position I'd taken on the budget that position provided!  I was hired to fill a Receptionist position in a multi-national, Fortune 500 company, who had very firm ideas of how they wanted their company represented at it's main entrance.  I cover over 500 employees, all professionals in one of the R&D divisions.  On any given day, I will assist Vice Presidents from our company offices in France, Ireland, India, or Mexico....make small talk with Ambassadors of countries representing our interests overseas, serve coffee to patent attorneys from in from back East....and my employers require a very put-together, professional look.  At the time, I totally bluffed my way into the job working with what I had on hand, literally grabbing the blazer on my way to my final interview!  With tricks of the mind and sleights of hand, I was able to fake my way through my initial month or so using cardigans, jewelry, and scarves, as I tried to figure out what my style was going to be.

If you are finding yourself in a similar position, are wanting to build a new more up-to-date wardrobe, or just desire to breath some new life into your current work wardrobe choices, there are a few basic foundation pieces that you'll want to have.

Two Pairs of Comfortable Yet Dressy Pants
A good pair or two of nice, slacks are an essential wardrobe basic item.   Think of them as the pencil that draws the outfit you'll be wearing.  These should be of medium weight, good fabric, and not too easily prone to wrinkles.  Look for a poly-blend; but when doing so, make sure they're of good quality....not the kind your Aunt Esther wears in colors not found in nature.  Go for black and dark blue as your seed pair.  These colors contrast with almost every color top and accessory and are easy to turn into completely different looking outfits, even if they're the only two pairs of work pants you can afford for awhile.   If you can't find something like this on the sales racks for reasonably cheap at Kohl's, Dillard's, or JC Penney's, fantastic stores to find these in are stores like Ross, Marshall's, and TJ Maxx, discount fashion stores that sell overstocked or mislabeled clothing for a fraction of what it originally sold at higher end retail stores.  Last week I picked up a pair of navy Jessica Simpson cuffed trousers that originally retailed for $69.  I paid $12.99.  I can honestly say that they are some of the best-fitting pants that I've ever owned.  But I wouldn't have shelled out at their original price.

The navy pair of pants alone can be paired with literally any colored top.  When dressing for a professional position, I've found it isn't so much the colors you pair together that make or break an outfit as it is the styles you pair together.  We'll get into that in a different post.

A black pair of pants will also go with anything at all.  You can take a pair of simple black slacks, that are paired with any colored Oxford shirt, a  brightly colored scarf in coordinating colors, and a pair of low-heeled shoes, a fantastic basic work outfit.  If you've got an important dinner, or a date after work, throw a couple of long gold chains, some gold earrings and a chunky bracelet, and a bright colored pair of heels into a bag, and you can change in your office bathroom and you've got an entirely different look for an evening out.  There were a number of weeks that the only pair of pants I owned was a black pair, and I've learned that the women I work with had literally no idea that was all I was working with.  And my very bestest best advice is an assurance that you can find a truly good quality pair of pants or two for just over $20 if you search out your local discount fashion stores.

                                 A Mid-length Skirt
This is one of those items that never goes out of style.  A simple black or dark blue skirt, about knee-length, can take you through a good 40-year span of your fashion life.  It's one of those simple, basic items that never change in themselves, but travel through trend after trend, never aging at all.  Because they've been around for so long, you can find them in every second-hand shop anywhere you go, in every style and length and material imaginable.  If you'd like to have a little bit more variety in your selections, go for a dark grey/charcoal or brown, something different than the pant colors you've selected.  These are also good colors to ahve around and will go well with the black blazer/white blouse combination as a good pallette for a bright scarf or piece of jewelry.
If you'd like a little bit of a change, choose a dark grey, or even a print with lots of color that won't tie you to just one look.  For instance, this skirt could go with that white blouse, blue, orange, or really any variety of colors that are in the skirts' pattern.


A White Button-down Shirt
Finding one of these was one of my biggest challenges.  Not that a simple white shirt with buttons is hard to find.  But finding the perfect white button-down shirt took me months.  In my experience, you want one that meets the following criteria:
  • Is of a medium-weight material heavy enough not to wrinkle too easily.
  • Is not too long or too short.  You'll want to be able to have enough of it to tuck in  or leave out depending on the look you're going for.
  • It shouldn't be too sheer, but at the same time not so heavy that you're limited to wearing it only in winter.
  • A fitted blouse gives you less leeway for different outfits, whereas a looser-fitting top will allow you to wear it tucked in and bloused, left out and belted, left out and loose, tied in a knot at the belt line for Casual Friday....far more versatility than a fitted shirt provides (those are nice to have too, but aren't essential for a beginning wardrobe).
  • Buttons in a neutral color.  You'd be amazed how hard it is to find plain buttons on a plain shirt.  I finally found a shirt I loved in every way, but the buttons were outlined in gold with black centers.  For about $3, I picked up some plain white/clear buttons, bought the blouse, and just replaced the buttons myself. (Btw, this trick alone will freshen up the shirts or jackets already in your closet.  You'd be amazed what changing the buttons will do to the look of a piece!)
Because a white button-down shirt is one of those timeless pieces that tend to incorporate itself within every trend, you won't have any difficulty finding a dearth of them everywhere you go, no matter what time of year.  For this piece, I would specifically suggest a reuse shop.  Not only is second-hand your most inexpensive option, they will have the largest selection of different styles of this specific item.  Most of the reuse shops I frequent have row upon row of hangers, each a different white shirt, and most in good quality condition.  Take the time to find the shop that has the highest quality inventory overall...these stores tend to be on the "good side of the tracks".  Pick out 5 or 6 that appeal to you and always try them on first.  In fact, grab a pair of dress pants on your way into the dressing room, and try the shirts on with the pants to get a better idea of how the end result will look.  After a lot of trial and error, the shirt I ended up picking as my go-to white, I paid $2.50, and I promise you will find the same!

A Short-Sleeved, Feminine Blouse (or two) In Your Favorite, Most Flattering Colors
Again, the reuse shop is the best place with the biggest selection.  My current favorite shop right now, Ares Thrift Store in Loveland, Colorado, is set up with sizes on the racks according first to clothing type (long-sleeved blouse, short-sleeved blouse, t-shirt, sweater, etc.), and then by color.  This could not make finding exactly what you're looking any simpler.  My last trip, I was looking for a shirt that had bright coral in it.  Yes, I know the rule is that you should purchase shoes to match your clothes and not the other way around, but I fell in love with a coral pair of platforms and had nothing to wear them with.  But I digress...about shoes...go figure...Anyway, I tooled into the store, which is the size of a grocery store, and where I've found the most amazing deals.  Within about 10 minutes, I had about as many choices, and it was only a matter of trying them on and deciding which to pick for the look I was going for.  For you, choose a color that is not only flattering to your coloring and build, but one that makes you fell absolutely fantastic when you put it on.  Make sure that you can pair it with both pairs of pants.

Black Blazer, Black or White Cardigan
This is sort of the bread course of your outfit.  Again, you can find a very good quality blazer at one of the discount stores listed above.  I've also found fantastic bargains on designer jackets at resale shops.  Actually, the bulk of my blazers I've bought second-hand, and I haven't spent more than $5 on any of them.  I started off with the black Kenneth Cole that I picked up on the way to my last interview, and spent my last $20 bill and change.  That was the last 'new' blazer I bought.  Since then, I've gotten a fantastic dark grey-green, a bright red wool (that looks fantastic with dark-wash jeans and that white shirt, and I paid $3 for it!), and a navy wool that goes with the grey slacks, the khaki chinos, and the navy slacks.  I've literally spent more on having a fabulous designer blazer dry cleaned after buying it second-hand than I paid for the blazer itself.  Be ware of spots, especially on the cuffs and collar, and make sure that you've checked it over very well in good light before purchasing it.  Most stains will come out with a good dry cleaning (again, usually under $5 for each piece), but if you've spent very little on it, those that don't come out won't hurt quite so much as if you had spent a large sum on the jacket to begin with.  In this gamble, I've only had to discard one piece that I misjudged a stain that didn't come out on dry cleaning (and it was a white jacket from Bloomingdale's that I paid $4.25 for, so my heart wasn't broken). :)

Another must-have is a good sweater or cardigan in a neutral color.  These (lucky for those of us saving) are another of those timeless items that trend well and are available in every second-hand shop in America.  Again, I've picked them up for as little as $1, in fabulous condition, and in every color imaginable.  If you're just starting off, pick one or two in both neutral and in a fun color.  These are paired well with the blouses you've picked as your basics, and can go with different jewelry, pairs of shoes, and scarves.  They're great in winter in that they provide extra warmth for layering, and work just as well in summer when you want to wear a sleeveless top but don't feel comfortable showing arm (or it's against your company's dress code).  Another great place to pick these up for very little is Forever 21.  Their online store has a great selection in tons of fun colors, all for usually under $10.  

    Pair of Comfortable Yet Dressy Neutral-colored Shoes

Another must-have is a pair of comfortable, preferably black, dress shoes.  These don't have to be high-heeled, though even a kitten heel gives a dressier impression.  Your first pair of work shoes should be closed-toe, either a loafer or a pump.  Try to find one that is matte-finish, not patent (flat-color, not shiny).  You want something understated that will go with everything you're collecting, not a pair of shoes that jump out of your outfit. Not that there's anything wrong with that!  I love my cherry red patent leather Mary Jane's!  (In fact, I'm wearing them right now!).  Statement shoes have their place, but they generally don't go with more than a few select outfit combinations, whereas the shoes pictured at left will go with everything dahhh-ling.

I know I'm sounding like a digitally-unsound MP3 here, but again, Ross, Payless, Walmart, and Target are your best places for finding this item at a price you'll hardly blink at.  If you've followed this blog for long at all, you know what a shoe whore I am.  These places are my favorite place to haunt for amazing new pairs, and I don't feel the least bit guiltly when I'm paying $10 for a pair of shoes I absolutely love.

Accessories, Accessories, Accessories!!!

Finally, begin collecting accessories.  With only two scarves and a few necklaces and bracelets, you can make a variety of different outfits and looks for every day of the week.  Great places to pick up scarves on sale is Walmart and Target.  You can usually find one or two in the clearance aisle that you'd find a way to incorporate into an outfit for work.   Choose bright, multi-colored scarves.  The more colors the scarf has in it, the more ways you'll be able to pair it.  Animal prints are huge right now, and a nice understated python or cheetah print goes beautifully with the blazer and white blouse.  You can usually find a large selection at reuse shops, but I've rarely found anything very stylish when it comes to this item.  On the up-side, they're a dime a dozen almost everywhere else!  Ebay is a great place for inexpensive scarves, as it Amazon!  Look on line for ways to style them.  The options are limitless, even in summer!

Jewelry is another must-have.  This is the funnest thing to shop for, as there really aren't any rules.  Try to keep things understated for work, but have fun with it!  As far as essentials, my go-to is a strand of pearls, extra long that I can leave long, wrap twice for a shorter look, or tie in a loose knot in the front.  For $9 at Walmart in the jewelry making sections by crafts, you can get a tub of 'pearls' that are drilled-through.  For another $2, you can get a roll of stretchy filament.  With these two items, you can make a rope of pearls exactly to your own liking, along with matching bracelets (simply string them on a length of the stretchy-see-through string, and tie in a few good knots when you reach the desired length, and Bob's your uncle!).  I can't tell you how many times I've used just this one resource alone in an outfit.  If you're not superstitious, pawn shops have fantastic pieces for a fraction of what you'd pay.  Another resource, again, is Walmart and Target, who change out their jewelry selection a few time a year, which means that you can almost always find something on sale.  I've picked up a stack of bangles like these, 25 to be exact, on sale for $3.99.  These can be mixed and matched in different combinations, or worn singly for different looks.

Handbags are another option, though tend to run a little more for quality.  If you have one good, black or dark brown bag, you'll do fine.  Bags can be a little extravagant.  Again, reuse shops are good for this, but you have to be careful; I've noticed most of them have been loved past their prime!  But I found one amazing bag for $6 that I still use today.  Bags are also very trendy, and so they look dated very quickly.  But if you're careful and remember to stay understated in this category, you can find some good bargains.

Trouser socks are another item you can find at Ross or Marshall's, usually four or five pairs for about $3.  Stock up.  These are great for winter when you can't go bare-legged.

Finally, don't be afraid to think outside the box!  I saw a cute outfit using a mans necktie in a magazine that I copied and have had so many compliments on it, I've begun wearing the style a few times a month just for something fun and different!  For $5.49 in the men's section at Ross, I was able to find a Calvin Klein skinny black necktie that Rik was kind enough to tie for me.  It looks so cute with black slacks, a bright red button-down shirt, and black blazer.  I'm on the lookout for a cute pair of skinny suspenders to mix it up a little bit as the weather gets warmer.  But I always get the nicest compliments.  It tends to stand out in a group of women, something men find intriguing for some reason :)
Most of all, look at the building of your wardrobe as something fun  you're doing in exploration of your Self.  How we look gives others their first impression of who we are.  You don't have to have anything expensive or loud to express yourself.  It doesn't have to be new or even modern to be stylish!  It's true that the most stylish item you'll ever put on is confidence.  But in dressing confidently, make a rule that you're only going to choose pieces that make you feel amazing, and beautiful, and fierce.  When you shop smart, I promise that you'll be able to build an amazing, fashionable wardrobe without wasting a single second worrying about the money you spent on yourself.  Make yourself a priority; it really doesn't have to break the bank.  And when you feel good, those people who love you feel good and your interactions change, too!  You are your smartest, most worthy investment.  Don't sell yourself short.  You are so worth this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Extra Ways To Earn and Save

If you weren't paying attention, beginning January 2nd and continuing on for, oh, about the next 128 days or so, some of the most boring days of the year take place.  Superbowl (which we all know really is actually an American Holiday) was last weekend, and Valentine's Day gets tossed in (yesterday, which I enjoy mainly because all flower deliveries for the 500+ people who work in my office have to stop first on my desk, where some remain even this morning!), but other than the party-holiday (St. Patrick's Day = green beer) and Easter (I usually make an agreement with myself that I can handle the idea of spring fashion after Easter), absolutely....nothing....happens.  My biggest purchase this week was an electric heating pad for under my bottom sheet (amazing....and on sale at Walmart right now for $24.95!!!)  As you can see by the space between blog entries here, I'm pretty uninspired this time of year!  After holiday spending, it's hard to justify spending more, especially when it seems a little self-indulgent being stuck in the house because of the cold, always a little bit bored surfing the internet for stuff to spend money on when the savings account could use a bit of a boost right now anyway, right?


I was wracking my brain for something to write about, something that we could all relate to, and realized that not only do I shop second hand stores because I love the bargains I find, but also because that frees up my clothing allowance for other things (like shoes!!!).  Over the past couple of months, I've found other ways to save money and make money that I thought might be useful to some of you, as well.

Lately we talked about how retailers are blowing out their winter inventory this time of year to make way for spring items and all the steals you can get this time of year, super-good swag for up to 80% off what you'd normally pay, not just for fashion and shoes, but for makeup and beauty products, too.  The re-sale shops are also doing the same thing.  I took a week of vacation the beginning of the month and drove to a neighboring town to visit a huge resale shop I'd seen in passing a few months ago.  For about $60, I bought practically an entire new wardrobe (including a gorgeous Old Navy wool pea coat for $3.50 that was in perfect condition...), as these stores also begin to get rid of their winter wear.  Last Saturday, this same store had a sale, all sweaters for $0.99!

Another trend I'm seeing is online retailers offering free shipping with no minimum purchase.  This is the perfect time to stock up on accessories.  Forever 21 had a sale on jewelry, and with no minimum purchase to take advantage of the free shipping, I stocked up on accessories to a tune of less than $10 and it didn't cost me any more than it would have to walk in the store!  Actually cost me less considering I didn't use gas to get there, or take time away from what I would be doing otherwise!  Bonus, bonus, and bonus!!


Another really cool and easy money maker I found recently that has had all sorts of added benefits is doing online surveys for money.  I was skeptical about this until I was referred by a friend who had actually received a check from the company for whom she'd done the surveys, proof that it was not a scam. 

So here's how it works:  basically, companies need to know what the general populace thinks.  At different stages of product development, marketers or the companies producing the product themselves want to know what we would think of a new product if it was available.  What would we be willing to pay for it?  Where would we expect to buy it?  What would we want it to look like?  What would we use it for?  The surveys are usually interesting and can take anywhere from 3 to 35 minutes.  Each survey is worth points  Once the predetermined point level has been reached, a check is issued.  The one that I'm using right now pays $50 for every 1000 points accumulated.  It took me about a month of surveys to reach my first check.  Essentially, my day job has a bit of down-time in that I have to be at my desk the entire time, but may not have enough actual work to keep myself occupied for my entire shift.     I received the invitation from my friend, filled out the application and took some introductory surveys mostly answering questions about my demographic (part of the country in which I live, my age, nationality, social status, etc.), and within 24 hours, a survey was sent to my inbox.  But the way I see it, if I'm sitting at my computer anyway and can't leave, why not make some extra money doing it?  And $50 is $50...that's my electric bill, or a couple of tanks of gas!  The surveys are interesting, always confidential, and it's fun to get to be a part of something before it's introduced to the masses.  The surveys I've taken have ranged from my opinion of the marketing ideas for a new coffee a major company was introducing, to which magazine cover would make me most likely to buy the magazine if I saw it on newsstands.  It's fun to walk up to the cash register a few days later and see the one you voted for sitting on the stand, or turn on the TV and see the coffee introduced for the first time in packaging you'd seen before anyone else.  Everyone is different and therefore offers marketing companies a different demographic for every need.  There are times that you will be screened from a survey because you haven't met the marketers' specific audience.  In this instance, my particular survey company has daily and quarterly sweepstakes for fairly significant cash prizes (thousands of dollars) for which you are given up to three entries for those surveys you screen out of, just so you don't feel you've wasted your time.  Just last week I put in for my first $50 check which I'm told will take 6-8 weeks to arrive.  I'll keep you posted.

A little side benefit that came with the survey site was a personal invitation from a company for whom I did a survey who is putting together a social-type network as a focus group for their own products.  The only requirement is that you take 10-15 minutes a week, participate in their own short surveys, or interact with other members to help grow the community.  Because the site is based around food, a passion of mine, I've found this to be a really fun enterprise, one that I have no problem spending time on each day.  As part of this site, I've already received gift certificates to Amazon just for participating!  This one is by invitation only, not referral, but I wanted to share this with you as an opportunity that opened up by taking part in the survey website mentioned above.  Free stuff is good!

I'd be more than happy to share an invitation to the survey site if anyone is interested.  Please comment here, or send me a private email (Madonah45@gmail.com) and I'll send you an invitation to the survey site I've described above.

Picture credit: afaal.net
Something else that I was recently introduced to is paid clinical trials.  The company I work for develops medical equipment.  Throughout the development process, human participation is required to test the equipment at the various stages, working out the bugs as they go along.  This can be very lucrative, and not at all in a science-fiction sort of animal-testing-freaky sort of way, either!  For instance, the equipment they're testing now is a gadget that clips loosely to your finger and reads the oxygen content of your blood.  For those of you who've been to the doctor recently, you know that these pulse oximeters are the farthest thing from invasive as you can get.  Participants are asked to sit in a room with this little gadget clipped to their finger while diagnostic studies are run on the equipment.  The gadget has to be tested in various conditions (hot room, cold room, while the person is active, standing, lying, sitting,,,etc. etc.).  For approximately 30 minutes of your time spent as above, a check in the amount of up to $175 is given to you that same day!  These types of tests are run all over the country, and are generally advertised on Craig's List!  An 'invasive' study here is one in which they draw blood ahead of time, and a doctor is present for all testing.  You can choose which tests you want to participate in, and the company pays for a screening physical before hand.  Unfortunately I am excluded from participation in these studies at my office because of conflict of interest, but what a fast and easy way to earn a significant amount of cash!  Something to definitely check out if you're interested!

I've decided to take a break from shoe purchases at the moment (unless I see something that truly blows my mind, of course), and am considering putting that $50 check into a savings account for a rainy day.  I'd love to hear your favorite way to save, your best bargain so far this winter, or the creative way you've found to earn some extra cash. 
Picture credit:  savingadvice.com
Until next time, I hope the next 127 days until something interesting happens are full of lucrative ventures and the best bargains of your life.  :D

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

That Strange Time-out-of-time: New Spring Lines in January

So now we're in the middle of the month, the faint sound of Jingle Bells still  playing somewhere softly in the distance (I mean, it's been three weeks, people!), and already stores online and in person are rolling out the Spring collection.  Am I the only one who finds this more annoying each year?  I'm finally just really digging into my sweater collection -- it snowed again last night --, and am being bombarded with sundresses and floppy hats in colors that are sorta setting my teeth on edge.  It's too soon after...we just celebrated all that is cold and shiny and wonderful, the days are still short and the drive home dark, my wallet has gift cards in it that I can actually use now, but I'm torn!  Do I commit to a pastel sundress dress I won't be able to really wear for another three months, or is it ok to go for that gorgeous bottle green sweater that I saw at Marshall's last week?  Sigh....

Yet this strangely out-of-place time of year has it's redeeming qualities, some of which I'm still discovering.  I was browsing around the drug store the other day waiting for my prescription to be filled, and strolled through the makeup aisle, and  was surprised to see the entire section decorated with little yellow flags.  Upon closer inspection, I found that these were all sales prices on the items that I use year round, some at up to 80-90% off!  Apparently when manufacturers change seasons, they will change their packaging, sometimes something as simple as wording, and BAM!  That blush you paid $10 for two months ago is now $2.49!  I stocked up and got some amazing bargains!

seriously considering this adorable red
beauty as my next addition!

I've found this same principal with shoes.  If you've followed me for long, you know how much I LOVE my shoes.  Right now, all of my shoe clubs are blowing out their winter styles at 50% off!  This is a great time to pick up that pair that you couldn't justify spending the $40 onbefore Christmas, but can now pick up for $19.95 without batting a perfectly-mascara'd-from-the-makeup-sale eyelash.  And with free shipping to boot!  (Or, at $20, should that be "two boot"?!!)

The fashion websites are also gearing up for Spring, some with huge markdowns off their regular prices, or offering other incentives like buy-one-get-one, free shipping with no minimum purchase, or a percent off their already on-sale prices.  No matter what you're looking for, you can find a deal to match what's left in your wallet after the holiday.

The long nights of winter are also a fun time to try different styles.  Sites like Polyvore allow you to pull together different looks and put them into outfits (think paper dolls) to see what you'd like to try without throwing everything from your closet onto your bed and then trying them on in different combinations to see what new looks you can scrounge up from the basics.  On those nights I don't have a lot of work, I've sat down at my computer and searched for the items that I have in my closet, saving a small picture of each item into a 'collection' under the account I set up on Polyvore.  These are then available for me to put together (literally) on a template page as a complete outfit 'set', which is what you see on page 1 of this blog.  It's become a template of the different looks I can get from the pieces in my closet at any given time.  This has been a really interesting enterprise on a number of fronts!  First and most surprisingly was seeing what the retail cost for some of my pieces actually are.  That's really what inspired me to put these  sets at the top of the blog, an actual example of what I've gotten for my pennies!  It's also fun to be able to put different pieces together that I wouldn't normally wear at the same time, just to see what else I can come up with using the basic pieces that I have.  You can also 'follow' other people on the site and get great style ideas, or even advice!  I was going to a black tie function earlier in the month, wearing a color I'd never tried before, and was completely stumped what lipstick color I should use.  I posted a picture of the dress, how I was accessorizing it, and a short description of the event and my coloring and preferences.  Then people could look at it and respond not only in writing, but also using pictures they themselves pulled off the site and put together for me!  It's a really fun, unique way to interact with others who are passionate about their fashion.

Pintrest sort of runs in conjunction with Polyvore in that you can "pin" your sets from Polyvore here (among many other fun things on this site!  Check it out!), and share them on a different platform.  Pintrest has provided a little sidebar to post deals of the day and generate interest in my blog and Polyvore account; together, they're like Facebook for Fashion!  I've really enjoyed it!  Rik comes into my office every now and then in the evening to say hi while I'm working only to find me posting a new outfit or 'deal of the day' on one site or the other...at least now he's not teasing me about over-posting to Facebook!

As winter makes it slow but steady way into Spring, use the time to reinvent your own style or rediscover what lurks in your closet.  So many cool tools out there to make this a fun and exciting endeavor on those dark winter nights or weekends too cold to go out.  Find a combination you like, and when the weather breaks enough to brave the trip, take a jaunt to your favorite resale shop and browse through those winter things your neighbors are shedding for Spring.  You might just be surprised there too!

Happy hunting! ;)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Carmel, Christmas, and Spanx

Every Christmas, one of my favorite parts of the holiday is pulling out my special Christmas cookbook full of my hand-printed recipes, and diving into those special things I only make a Christmas time. When the boys were growing up, it was always fun to surprise them with a hot plate of fresh gingersnaps, or their favorite Biscotti when they got off the bus.  Usually, my favorite Christmas treat is homemade divinity made from my grandmas recipe.  I have been known to eat entire batches without assistance.  So this year, I decided to try making caramel     I don't really like the stuff.  The sticky goopy sweetness of it isn't something I seek out with any regularity, unless of course it's hidden covered in chocolate and full of nuts.  So I made caramel   Batch after batch of caramel  each with 2 full cups of heavy whipping cream and real butter...so much caramel that I got a callus on my stirring hand. 
picture credit:  blogs.babble.com

And I gained 8 pounds.  The stuff was amazing!  Then I made the mistake of trying it salted....O..M..G....I'm actually drooling right now as I think about it....divinity never had this hold on me...

So now it's January.  Today the service came into the office to clear out the Christmas trees and decorations all sort of sad and apologetic-looking, as if they're sorry to be seen outside of their season, and I'm always a little sad to see the shininess go away at the end of a good Christmas.  Everywhere I go around here, the talk centers around new years resolutions, those earnest attempts at change, most as hopeful as a Christmas wish.  Most of them involve weight loss, and I see a lot of people coming in early to use the gym, and eating salads in the break room, and I'm right there with them, waiting for payday so I can join the gym here on campus and start taking the yoga classes I've been mentally hounding myself about for the last 3 years.

You're probably wondering what all this nonsense has to do with fashion.  I'll tell ya in one word:  SPANX.
Picture credit:  AnnTaylor.com
As I've gotten older, I haven't gained a ton of weight, but my body is starting to get bulges in really odd places.  Like, I suddenly feel I should be wearing my bra backwards...you know those poochy things that show up in the bra area, but in back?  Ewww.  I'm not well-endowed in front, but sister am I getting a rack in the back!  And then there's the muffin top (such a cute name for something so sinister!).  But I've recently discovered something that makes it all go away.  (By that I mean, out of sight, out of mind; I only see it if I forget to close my eyes when I change into my jammies at night.)  You pull on these wonderful stretchy saviors and suddenly, no matter how poochy you are in all the wrong places, you're streamlined for speed.  Those unsightly bulges squish inward where they belong, unseen by the naked eye and visible only on MRI imaging (I assume).

Picture credit: fortieswardrobe.blogspot.com
Not so long ago, women --even thin ones! -- wore girdles as a matter of course!  Watch Mad Men or Pan Am, and you get a taste of the "foundations" that women have worn for centuries in order to get closer to the shape they know is under there somewhere.  Add that to the increasing number of pictures I've seen recently of wardrobe malfunctions on women in entertainment who we look at as the goddesses of body, and I'm thinking "If it's okay for them, it's okay for me!"  I'm willing to be convinced I'm wrong, but until then, I'll continue to squish.  Oh how I loves me my Spanx.

Yes, it's cheating.  Yes, I still desperately need to go to the gym and cut back on sweets (damn you caramel  my new sweet friend!).  And yes, my desire is to eventually not have to hide from myself every time I get out of the shower, the visual equivalent of plugging my ears and screaming "LALALALALA" at myself.  But while I'm doing that (notice I didn't use the word "until" indicating action), I will gladly step into my Spanx every morning and have a totally non-bulgy silhouette.  If that's cheating, fine.  I can live with that.

Happy New Year to all of you amazing Fashionistas, however bulgy :)

~M