Category: Shopping

A Week of Outfits: Wednesday

“A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”
– Diana Vreeland

After that whole spiel about rarely wearing patterns, I pulled out THE pattern, my ducklings. The quintessential, ride or die, take no prisoners pattern: the leopard print.

As I’ve written, I strive for polish, but I also take effort and I don’t like to be bored. For better or worse, I’m loud and sometimes I like for that to come out in my clothes.

I’ve joked about it before, but I completely aim to be the belle of the nursing home in my old age. I want to wear bright colors and loud prints in my twilight and be tsked for dressing inappropriately for my age. When I conjure this image, leopard print has always loomed large for some reason. Somewhere along the line I decided it was stupid to wait for old age to have this kind of fun, and I think that’s when I decided trying to be “chic” was a fruitless effort for me, at least in the way the word is usually used. The word “chic” usually conjures an impossibly thin woman, often in all black or neutrals, with perfect hair. I like this woman, a lot in fact, but I don’t think I am her and that’s okay.

I love the brashness of leopard print, how gleefully in your face it is, but also how easily it can be tamed and managed. Not an easy task for literal wildlife, but perfectly doable. Jenna Lyons, formerly of J. Crew famously once declared that “Leopard print is a neutral,” and that’s exactly the attitude you need to take in order to make this loud shout of wildness feel like the easiest thing in the world.

It’s not stereotypically chic, but I like to think it’s still a little stylish in spite of my clearly still ever-present awkwardness. No one should have to wait until they are old and out of ***** to give to wear leopard print.

To keep the pattern the focus on the look (like unto color in my previous post), I opted for neutral black elsewhere. A black silk top from Everlane, a thin black belt that serves no purpose except to accessorize, and a desceptively basic mid heel black pump. More on that tomorrow. It feels less aggressive than a pointed shoe…and also I don’t have a pointed toe black pump and won’t until next year thanks to my new shopping restrictions. That feels like a very silly and basic item to be missing from one’s closet, but them’s the rules, kids. I also shunned my big hoop earrings of yesterday for a delicate, practically invisible gold chain and pearls again instead, and once again wielded my trusty Longchamp–which I failed utterly to include in photos.

Also very granny as an aesthetic: my new found love for mid and low heeled shoes. It’s difficult to love heels and be a Londoner. The cobbles are not kind to either your shoes or your poster as you fight to keep your balance and navigate uneven pavement. I love heels and I always will, but it’s astonishing how often I am choosing to forgo them in favor of something much more practical, to say nothing of comfortable. I think I’m getting old, kittens…but that’s okay because I’m clearly already dressing for it.

A Week of Outfits: Tuesday

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.” 
― P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

This was a day that I wanted to look colorful and summery but also well put together. And so guys…we need to talk about the color of these trousers:

We also need to talk about the continuous tragic failure to take a single photo I like of myself. The fact that I had to work late and therefore barely caught the fading light, glasses included, were not working in my favor! Ah well.

I tried to be a Cool Girl for years, one who could wear monochrome or all black, and do you know what? It bored me. I love black, it’s classic and chic in the right doses but I am simply not content to wear it alone or even try. Give me color or give me death. Indeed, give me too much color and keep your unasked for opinions or criticism to yourself.

Over time I’ve developed a sort of personal palette of colors satisfy my need to peacock, while still building a coherent wardrobe where I can mix and match pieces and maximize my items. I’ve learned what shades I like, which pair well together, and how to partner brighter pieces with neutrals so that the color itself is the stand out element of most of my outfits. By dressing in bold but blocked color, I feel like I’ve found a way to make my need to not feel boring meet my need to dress for a certain audience, particularly in my work life. I don’t often wear patterns as a result and prefer to add variety by using textures (tweed, leather, or velvet for example) or accessories.

Maybe I’ll do a separate post on my palette and talk through the colors I’ve chosen to build my wardrobe around, but it will shock no one who’s spent more than five minutes on this site to know that emerald green is one of them. Green is my favorite color and has been for the whole of my life. My engagement ring is an emerald (smart lad, that Jeff). My wallet is a beautiful green leather one with my monogram on it. If I catch site of a perfect emerald shade in anything in a shop, I will immediately gravitate towards it; my perfect hue is something between the richness of an precious stone and the brightness of a kelly green. It can be a hard shade to get right but when I find something in it that works, I will also find a way to incorporate it into my life, so help me god.

Such an item were these trousers by Boden, last seen in my July Favorites post here. I fell in love with them fast and hard, waited for them patiently to go on sale, and took them to a quality tailor to get them hemmed when I finally pulled the purchase trigger. Remind me, kittens, at some point we need to also talk about the importance of tailoring! I regret nothing. They are bold and not an item to pick if you want to be subtle; I love them.

I paired them with a simple black top, the same black and white LK Bennett shoes from yesterday (found brand new at a charity shop for a mere 20% of their purchase price), and my trusty black Longchamp bag again. I wore my vintage gold hoops because they felt equally bold, but otherwise, the focus on this look is the color of the trousers and I kept my makeup neutral to keep it there.

I’m really happy with this outfit and I can even think of of ways to winterize it when the weather gets cold. It may be the height of summer but when you’re talking about Britain, you need to face facts that it will get cold and dark again at some point. And if colorful trousers make the summer heat bearable, you can only imagine how I feel about them in the unrelenting gray of winter.

Forgive Me, Readers, for I Have Failed…BUT!

These are my confessions
Just when I thought I said all I could say
My chick on the side said she got one on the way
These are my confessions
Man, I’m throwed and I don’t know what to do
I guess I gotta give part two of my confessions
If I’m gonna tell it, then I gotta tell it all…
– Usher, Confessions II

So, Reader, here’s the bit where I confess that I have failed my shopping self challenge for the year.

Earlier this year I wrote about a goal of only buying 18 personal items throughout the year (with a few sensible caveats like socks, and that sort of thing). Well, I did really well at this for well over half the year but a grab bag of charity shop scarves and a vintage shopping binge have put me over my tally.

One of the culprits in question. It was 20 quid. It’s brilliant.

A few shameless attempts at reducing my guilt! I have only bought one item that is more than what I would have paid on the high street or a mid-range shop for its equivalent. A bunch of these items were a handful of pounds each, but did not fall into one of my protected categories and thus were tallied on my running spreadsheet regardless of cheapness–of course there’s a spreadsheet, don’t you know me at all?

But self-justification aside, I did have a bit of a moment of self-reflection. In fact, to speak truth, I had a nice little bout of emotional self-flagellation when I typed in my purchases and realized I had broke my goal, and decided to wallow in unproductive recrimination for the better part of an evening. Eventually more sensible feelings prevailed. I felt weak willed, but I also didn’t really regret any of the items I’ve spent money on this year. In fact, the sum total was less than 2% of our combined income as a family so maybe I had picked a silly goal to try and accomplish, or maybe my expectations weren’t reasonable? Or hell, maybe I am just weak willed and that’s the end of it.

I decided I could live with the minor guilt, especially if I set up a new self challenge instead. I’ve discovered in the past couple of years that game-ifying things helps me achieve goals and keeps me more accountable that sheer willpower alone. Working towards an established prize or even just being able to tick a box every day is a simple but effective thing for me. It’s a bit juvenile, but it works. X. and I keep one another accountable with our health and fitness goals because we are working towards a girl trip together if we meet them. Katarina I and keep up a regular chat chain of encouragement towards writing goals, whether about meeting a word count or just bouncing ideas off of one another. I have whole pages dedicated to lists and projects (of course I do) in my journal that I get the most ridiculous pleasure from in updating and refining. I’m so type A it’s silly. So, what could I do to reset my self-challenge in a really useful way?

We haven’t purchased anything for the house since these antique chairs, which I still think were a great purchase, for the record.

My one regret in shopping these past few months was that I didn’t feel like I had made any progress towards decorating our house which is still fairly basic in its furnishings. But finding the right trade off between an item that you like, that suits your space, and isn’t stupidly priced in London can be difficult and though we’ve liked the idea of different items over the past eight months, nothing compelled me to loosen our purse strings once.

Until the other day. I think I found it. A piece of furniture that matches our front room area, solves a storage need, has the right dimensions, looks gorgeous, is an upcycled vintage piece, and costs less than £350. Jeff and I discussed it and it seems to check all the boxes. I’ve messaged the seller to enquire about it and thus far the signs seem positive.

And so, kittens. I’m making a new bargain and documenting it here for you, the coterie, to hold me accountable. If this deal goes through, we are counting this piece of furniture as our mutual Christmas present to ourselves and the following Faustian pact will kick in:

  • I am locking up my wallet for the rest of the year. Nada, zilch. Not a single personal item shall I buy for the next five months. This will also count as my final spending freeze for my 101/1001 goal list.
  • I will finish paying off one of our credit cards in full, by the end of the year. Another partial 101/1001 goal!
  • I will prepare and pack lunches every day for the rest of the year, or lean on my cash allowance. Or starve, I guess…
  • I will extend my makeup no-buy challenge (which I have confessed to breaking) until June of 2019. Any replacement items I buy will be drugstore, without exception.
  • I will write about this project: regularly, fully, and honestly. No matter how embarrassing or confessional. Hell, I even promise to try and be funny about it!

So, there, that’s how I’ll leverage my weak will for your benefit, ducklings. Let me know what kinds of posts you’d like to see now through the end of the year as I try to earn myself some furniture and engage in some new financial asceticism. I think I may like to open the (vintage!) kimono and write a bit more specifically about the things I’ve collected over the years and why. I may finally do a “shop my closet” series and get around to doing those Out of the Day posts I’ve committed to in my 101/1001 but have felt too self conscious to do. Perhaps you’d be interested in a tour of my favorite shops and markets around London, or you yourself may want to engage in some competitive goal tracking. Do let me know in the comments, I’m interested!

 

 

 

The Joy of Dupes

“Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.” 
― Coco Chanel

I admit it, I can be a sucker for luxury. I work in marketing, I should know better! But because I do work in marketing, I also know the power that branding has and how a well maintained and reputation-earning brand can add zeros on to its asking prices and still be considered worth every penny. In other cases, however, no matter how attractive the brand, the underlying product can be lackluster enough that zeros should probably be knocked off.

Last year I did a month long money project in January where I tracked my spending publicly, and once a year for the past couple of years I’ve gone on a “no buy” where I complete restrict all personal shopping for several months. I’m in the midst of another one now. There are several posts on this site going back years where I catalog and document my attempts to be a smarter, more ethical, and less reactive consumer and it’s an ongoing process. Lately I’ve been on something of a mission to find cheaper versions of items I love over because while some things may absolutely be worth the pricetag, a lot (if not most of the time) you can find the same ingredients, experience, or emotional charge from something at a much better price point.

It’s not wrong to want and use nice things, or even to save up for a luxurious purchase if you can honestly afford it, but I do think it’s silly to do so when you can get an almost identical version of the product for a fraction of the cost. At what point does the idea of a certain product stop being worth the price tag?

Here’s a by-no-means-comprehensive list of some “luxuries” I’ve replaced with cheaper options recently.

Dyptique Feu de Bois (£45) / Muji Log Fire (£4.95)
The numbers here speak for themselves. Let’s step into the confessional booth for a moment: as a young adult I was an easy sucker for Dyptique candles, they are such wonderful smelling things that look and feel like something a grown up would burn in their home. When we were living in a shoebox with peeling linoleum floors, I bought these because they made me feel better about the cramped and ugly space we lived in. They are textbook aspirational homegoods and I fell for the emotional bait hook, line, and sinker. I repent. I have also found a practically identical scent for literally a tenth of the price and have repurposed the fancy glass remains of past candles as makeup brush holders.

Bite Beauty Pepper ($26) / Maybelline Color Sensational Velvet Beige (£6.99)
Last month I achieved that rare thing, finishing a whole bullet of lipstick. Thanks to discovering the Makeup Rehab Subreddit and several self challenges to finish products I have on my shelves instead of falling prey to the siren song of the latest launch, I have found ways to game-ify using products instead of acquiring them. A useful inversion of capitalism and marketing! But staying on point, when it came time to consider replacing it (and I did want to, as it was my only nude colored lipstick, if you can believe that) I considered repurchasing the same lipstick, before deciding to see if I could replicate it at the drugstore. No surprises, I found a near perfect match at that great British institution Boots. Even better, though, because I am a careful hoarder of membership points, I had accumulated more than enough to cover the cost of a drugstore lipstick. So not only did I find an equivalent item that costs a quarter of the price, in this case I got it for free.

Pestle & Mortar Hyaluronic Acid (£36) / The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid (£6)
Honestly The Ordinary probably has a cheaper version of any skincare ingredient you’d like to try. When hype about the Drunk Elephant Vitamin C serum reached frenzy, it was wonderfully easy to avoid it seeing as I had a Vitamin C product sitting pretty on my shelves that cost less than £6–though full disclosure, the Drunk Elephant still temps me. I plan on trying a £5.50 Lactic Acid solution of theirs next to see if it can replace my Sunday Riley Good Genes serum (which costs a whopping £85 and which I have not repurchased in months for obvious reasons, much as I love the formula).

 

The Best Things I Bought Last Year

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.” 
― Karl Lagerfeld

Inspired by Janssen over at Everyday Reading, I thought I’d run through a few things that I spent money on last year that sparked a lot of joy. Budgeting continues to be a big thing in the Small Dog residence this year and posts on this theme will continue to flow as I continue to think about consumption and responsible consumerism, as well as debt management. All of which I’m sure you guys find riveting.

That’s right, ducklings, come for the political angst, stay for the sensible money talk!

So, while I’m in the midst of a three month-long personal spending freeze to kick off the new year, here are the best things I bought in 2017.

Vintage Chairs

We took an apartment at the upper end of our budget when we moved into this place, negotiating a better rent rate in exchange for furnishing it ourselves rather than asking our landlord to do so. This has had tradeoffs. We live in the nicest place of our married life but have had to curtail spending elsewhere as a result; we have an amazing home, but are taking literal years in putting it together and saving up for big buys one at a time. But both of us were in agreement when we saw this pair of vintages chairs show up at one of our favorite antique stores that we wanted them. They were our only big budget item for our house this year but they’ve leant our place charm, personality, color, and a much needed place for people to actually sit. I love them.

Party Dress

It had been years since I bought a party dress that didn’t come in the LBD variety, but this past holiday season I had enough events to go to (with a broad range of dress codes) that an update to the wardrobe was justifiable. This dress was in my December favorites post, but deserves another shout out because I have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of this thing.

Lea Stein Brooch 

I picked this up on our long weekend trip to Paris with the glorious Caitlin and her lovely husband Jose. I fell in love with Lea Stein designs years ago and stumbled across an amazing shop in the Rue Jacob that sells vintage costume purely by accident. This was the only purchase that came home from Paris this year and it’s a wonderful bit of treasure.

Greek Vacation

Without fail, the best thing we spent money to me this past year was a week in Greece just the two of us. I’m very bad at relaxing, and this trip was a much needed reset. Even though we were crazy and flew into and out of Athens in less than 24 hours, we had a wonderful day in the city and an amazing six further days on Santorini with hiking, sailing, and an awful lot of food. It was amazing and has really helped me remember to prioritize time off better than I have before.

Editing

“Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Letters

I don’t always do a good job of remembering resolutions, but I have to say, picking a “theme” for this year has been a remarkable success. My mindset around a lot of life elements has taken a turn for the healthier and I’m in a more balanced place than I’ve been in years. I really believe that this has come from some purposeful editing of my life. I’ve gotten much better at saying no, worked hard to remove or improve things that contributed to my stress and anxiety problems, and become a lot more intentional about my money and consumption choices. It’s been a very successful project, and I’m already thinking towards how I want to frame 2018.

“Less but better” doesn’t have a uniform definition for me. For instance, we are currently living in our largest and most expensive home to date, but on the other hand, after 10 years of marriage and most of those spent in cheap digs, the decision to rent a nice apartment was a considered one. We are also furnishing it ourselves, meaning we are spending money, but we are taking that process slowly and very judiciously. Our home is still far less furnished than I would like…but we have chosen every piece in it together because we loved it, and not because it was the cheapest option on Craigslist. I love the idea of editing a home, carefully selecting what I put in it and not rushing to fill empty space just because I have it.

Stress levels: all time low. This time last year my nails were chewed to the quick.

Meanwhile, on the work front, I’m actually working more but in a better way. Going back to freelance and contracting has been a great decision. I have not only opened a lot of doors and opportunities, but I have finally discovered a balance between work and identity: what I do vs. who I am. This has not always been the case with me, as I tend to throw myself into things like causes, projects, and roles wholeheartedly, allowing the lines between them and myself to blur. Surprisingly, given the nature of freelance and contract work and how it can divide your attention, I’ve found that because I’ve been able to choose my work, I’ve therefore been able to choose (i.e. edit) how I direct my energy. This has also helped me train my brain to better separate work from my personal life and I’m more aggressive about holidays and an overall work/life balance. In other words, I may be working more, but my stress levels are lower than they’ve been in years.

Let’s talk stuff, generally. I had a whole month long blog project dedicated to my closet and bathroom shelf this year, and I continue to be really happy with where it’s at. I’ve actually shopped and bought less this year than I have probably since my early 20s. Granted what I have bought has tended to be more expensive, but I’ve been fascinated to physically feel the urgency and desire to buy things fade as the year has gone on. There’s plenty of reporting out there to suggest that brain chemistry can be affected by purchasing, and I wonder if I’ve been able to ween myself off an internal drug I didn’t realize I was on. I’ve been slowly editing my closet down and I now think I own less clothing than I did when we first moved to London on an item-for-item basis. What I do own, I wear more and I love more. The same goes with beauty; I’ve been focused on using what I already own instead of craving new makeup and skincare items. I’m actually in the midst of a shopping freeze (my second this year) in an effort to actually use up cosmetics and potions before I allow myself even to replace beloved items. I’ve done a few edits of my shelf throughout the year and donated or gifted a few items that I didn’t use enough to justify keeping. Maybe it’s a welcome byproduct of getting older and more self-confident, but I’ve never been more pleased with the woman in the mirror.

When it comes to food and overall health, I haven’t done as well as I would have wished. We are eating out less (yay, us!) but ordering in more (kind of defeats the purpose, C….). We have periods of focus on health, but other periods of intense laziness. One thing I’ve realized is how much I require a routine in order to stay committed to food, exercise, and wellbeing goals. I am not a natural health bunny, I do no default to healthiness–I default to deep friend potatoes and Netflix and am self-aware enough to acknowledge this. It turns out that once I’m in a routine, I am pretty good at maintaining it but if something knocks me off course (two straight weeks of houseguests for instance, or a particularly uneven month at work), I fall well and truly off the wagon and it takes herculean effort to climb back aboard. I haven’t figured out quite how to overcome this yet, but I suspect the solution will lie in editing out things that I use as excuses or distractions.

This has been a much better year than 2016 for me, and I’m feeling pretty positive about 2018 at the moment. It’s a good place to be.

Empties Update

“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor.” 
― Courtney Summers, All the Rage

Back in April, as part of my Style Month project, I shared several months worth of empties–the products I’ve used to the last drop. I remain pleasantly fascinated with empties videos or posts from other writers and of course, I’ve been on a bit of a kick when it comes to thinking and writing about consumption myself. So obviously as soon as I had hit publish on my last post, I began stockpiling items as I used them up for an update. Six months later, it’s time for an update!

I’ve bought very few new products in the last half year and so have been able to use up quite a few things to learn more about what I like, what I hate, what I swear by, and what I think is just not worth the money.

Not too bad, C., you may say. Seems manageable until you–

Oh god, what kind of monster am I?!

Skincare first! There were quite a few repeats in here as this is my second bottle of Sunday Riley Good Genes, at least my bottle third Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, my second Clinique All About Eyes Rich eye cream, and third Kate Somerville ExfoliKate scrub. All of these are beloved favorites, but I’ve made a commitment to use up much more of my own beauty stash before I allow myself to repurchase any of these items (particularly as they aren’t exactly cheap). You may be surprised to hear that I dislike a Glossier product, but their Super Pure formula is my least favorite of their three serums and I wouldn’t repurchase it. The Pestle & Mortar Superstar retinol oil was excellent, but I’m road testing a much cheaper version from The Ordinary which thus far I really like! Speaking of, I also finished off a bottle of hyaluronic acid serum from the The Ordinary displaced another Pestle & Mortar similar product as well. Quality doesn’t need to break the bank, kids!

Another bottle of Glossier Milky Jelly cleanser down. I already had a bottle of this on stand by that I purchased over the summer, but I’m ridiculously lucky and got two free additional bottles from attending the Glossier pop up earlier this summer, and then scored another back up as the G-team apparently mailed out some gift boxes as follow up to that press event later in the summer. Because they are freaking brilliant at marketing. Long story short, I haven’t had to repurchase this in a while, but I fully intend to when my stash runs down again. It’s a really good product, perfect as a morning cleanser or a second cleanse in the evening (if I’ve been wearing a full face of makeup and SPF all day). My evening cleanser for months has been the Oskia Renaissance Cleansing gel–a gel/balm formula that turns to oil on your skin. It dissolves most makeup and doesn’t strip your skin in the slightest. The Kiehl’s cleanser has been included in this stash for the sake of honesty. Technically it was Jeff’s product but I made liberal use of it in the shower and contributed to its demise–so into the bag it went! I’ve used up two masks, the Aesop Parsley Seed mask and Moisturizing Moon mask. I may repurchase them someday, but I want to try some similar products from other brands first…once my current mask stash is depleted. I definitely would not repurchase the Tidal cream by Sunday Riley–odd smell, nothing special as a moisturizer, and sparkly flecks in it to boot.

Hair continues to be my personal Waterloo, but here are some of the mane-taming products I used up recently, along with a couple of shower bits. I’m not precious about my bathing and use Jeff’s razors and bodywash without shame. In fact, I’m positive I missed at least two bottles of bodywash that rightly should have been included in this confessional but recycled them first. Oops. My eczema continues to wreak havoc on my scalp, hence the two different medicated shampoos (also probably not an honest reckoning), but I did manage to make it through two bottles of conditioner. A powder style dry shampoo and leave-in conditioner round off the pack. The powder smells wonderful but I would not repurchase as I’ve found a much better spray formula. All the other items, however, are pretty much my standard shower rotation and their replacements are in situ.

While we’re being honest, that comment about stealing Jeff’s face wash? Same for deodorant. I just don’t see the point of the pinker, lady-friendly stuff when he has a perfectly good can of product sitting on our dresser that I can swipe. The Certain Dri roll on, however, is definitely mine. Also in the spirit of full disclosure, this stuff is fantastic and when I use it regularly/properly, it’s a miracle product. I tend to pick up a bottle whenever we go back to the States. I also used up a No 7 make up brush cleanser from Boots (great product!) and a bath oil from Sanctuary Spa. I take a bath almost every night, especially in cold weather and prefer oils to bubbles…even if it means I have to scrub the tub more regularly. It’s a small price to pay for zen.

Finally, some make up! Er, kinda? It takes me quite a while to get through make up products, though you may remember my recent discovery of the MakeUp Rehab reddit community which has inspired a number of “use it up” personal challenges for me. If I do another post like this six months from now, I’m hoping to have a few empty makeup tins and pans to add to the pile. This time at least, I made it through yet another tube of Maybeline Full ‘N Soft mascara–my go to for years. Glossier Boy Brow did good service in the beauty wars and its replacement is already in rotation. I loved this hand cream from Elizabeth Arden and will definitely be buying a full sized tube once my seemingly infinite amounts of other travel sized lotions have served their time. Finally, I used up a bottle of Hermes Jardin sur la Nil perfume which I loved but am happy to part with as friends after a four year run.

Your turn, kittens, if you feel up to oversharing in the comments. Do you keep track of items that you use up–if so, what and why? Is my fascination with personal consumption at all interesting or just weird? Let me know your thoughts, I’m braced for impact!