Category: Shopping

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!

Treasure From Paris

“Adornment, what a science!” 
― Coco Chanel

It’s been a minute since our trip to Paris but I came home with a piece of treasure and a shop that needs to be shared.

First some background. I have discovered a deep and abiding love for costume jewelry that I can’t explain. Aesthetically, I love the delicate pieces that have been trending for a while; the barely there chains, discreet studs, airily pretty pieces that Cool Girls wear so effortlessly. And yet, in recent years, everything I have been personally drawn to has been brightly colored, oversized, loud, and just a bit wacky. Somewhere in my psyche is the soul of a supremely and gloriously gives-no-****s senior citizen who decorates her walker with rhinestones, holidays in places that her grandchildren consider “unsuitable,” revels in garish lipstick, and probably has disinherited all her relatives at some point.

It was at the start of this phase that I discovered the jewelry of Lea Stein, a French accessories artist famous for her plastic brooches in what have come to be considered some iconic shapes. My favorite design was her fox-shaped pin and I coveted one, while cursing the high prices that her pieces command for the genuine articles. I follow a number of sellers or traders in the antiques world, Etsy, and elsewhere specifically to keep an eye on what’s coming and going, with an eye to snagging a deal.

So, over the summer while walking down a gorgeous street, my spidey senses pinged unexpectedly. Out of the corner of my eye, some bright colors had flashed and once my brain had caught up, poor Jeff was nearly dragged across the street.

Meet Tiany Chambard on the Rue Jacob, a tiny but absolutely jam packed shop specializing in vintage costume jewelry. What had caught my attention was a display case in the window featuring an abundance of Lea Stein pieces.

I was ridiculous and failed utterly to take photos at the time of the discovery visit, but returned to at least capture the store front and give you a tantalizing hint as to what lies inside.

 

A wealth of goodness!

The shop carries outright kitsch to designer pieces and I could have gleefully spent hours in there–I fully intend to on my next trip to Paris–but on this visit, I was on a mission. Armed with Jeff’s laughing comment that if I found one I loved it could be my anniversary present, the lovely seller unlocked a cabinet filled with Stein goodness and allowed me to turn over each brooch until I found The One.

This was the only thing I bought in Paris this trip, and it’s been a long time since a purchase gave me this much pleasure. Come jacket season, this guy get the place of honor on my beloved 1950’s tweed.

What I Bought This Month

“When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else.”
― Iris Apfel

As we begin to wind down style month here, as promised, is an account of what I’ve bought since my shopping ban lifted. Though I’m not going to make a formal commitment (my next ban won’t be until next year), I’m going to make this the last round of personal purchases for a long time. Jeff is looking to buy a new suit and possibly a sports coat (his vice of choice), while I want to continue to shop my own closet the way I have been for the past few months. Now that I’ve done a few clear outs and a bit a streamlining to both my wardrobe and my bathroom shelf, I’m more happy than ever with what I already have. My trusty, long running list of items I’d like to buy has had a couple of ticks put in it, and even more items eliminated as I reevaluated my needs. Only three items remains, and in the case of all of them I’m happy to wait a few months before buying them.

And so, what needs and indulgences made the cut? Read on!

Bite Prismatic Pearl Creme Lip Gloss
A pure indulgence that I didn’t need, but wanted a great deal. I was as a magpie drawn to shimmer and I don’t regret it in the slightest!

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Phone photos don’t do these beauties justice. The shimmer is strong!

Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance Palette
My eye makeup stash had a gap I wanted to rectify: lack of color. While I had a few dashes of pigment in my supplementary bits and pieces, my eye shadow collection was overwhelmingly neutral. Since my eyes are green, I knew I wanted something with red and purple tones in it to play up the color, and I’d wanted this palette for a long time. Add a coupon code to the mix, and I snapped it up. And I solemnly swear not to buy any more eyeshadows until I’ve hit pan on what I’ve got.

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The whole thing was supposedly inspired by the tones found in Renaissance paintings. Which means that from the get go, it had my name written all over it.

A vintage faux fur coat
While Etsy-scanning I stumbled upon a coat designed in the 80s but looked like it was from the 20s and looked like something a flush bootlegger’s girlfriend would swan about in. I required it. Many thanks to Katarina who is coming to visit this summer; I enlisted her aid in conveying it to me when she does and she, darling that she is, agreed. Also, you’ve got a hint as to one of my perpetual style inspirations in the screengrab: Agatha Christie murder mysteries. That Interwar period look gives me life.

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I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to winter now!

Everlane tops and jumper
Everlane had one of their international shipping promotions and so I picked up some replacement t-shirts (all of my current t-shirts were a couple of years old and stretched or sagging in less than flattering ways). There are few joys quite like fresh cotton, whether new shirts or clean sheets! I also picked up a jumper and a summer top. I’d like to get a couple of their silk tops for work, but am biding my time until another international promotion comes around. I didn’t snap photos of these because, let’s face it, I’m not a style blogger and lack some of the basic skills!

Joy skirt
I’d wanted a mid length skirt for a while. I found one with both pockets and with a designed in a repeating pattern of lipstick tubes. I really don’t feel like I need to explain this any further.

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I mean, seriously, come on!

Apart from the personal purchases, the thing I’m really happy we bought this month are two vintage chairs for the house. We bought a very nice couch and bedroom set when we moved to our current apartment and new it would be several months before we could afford to buy anything else in furnishing it. The waiting has been boring and I’m impatient. But at long last we found a beautiful pair in the style we liked and in our price range. It will be another few months before we can buy our next piece, but these beauties will hold me over I think.

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Use What You’ve Got: The Psychology of Shopping Your Closet

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”
― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

Based on an unscientific gathering of stories from my friends, coworkers, and pals, I’m convinced we all have great stuff in our closets that we don’t use. There can be a lot of good reasons not to wear what we’ve got, which is a topic for another day, but today I want to focus on the bad excuses for not using what we already own. Or at least one in particular: the “I bought it special” excuse.

I’m going to push the boat out and just say that if you’re saving unworn items in your closet for “special occasions” (with exceptions of somer event-wear) you’ve wasted your money or let your emotions do your shopping for you. I used to be a particularly bad offender of this and would buy clothing that I wanted to wear…but never got around to wearing because I didn’t think I had the right occasions to do so.

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In some cases, I had indeed purchased irrelevant items, which was due to me not really having a handle on what my actual clothing needs were for my then-lifestyle. But in other cases, I’d purchased clothing that could be considered aspirational. It was a bit nicer than my other items, more dressy, a different style, or just out of my current comfort zone. I loved them, but I bought them thinking that I needed to wait for the “right time” to wear some of them, that they were “too good” for my day-to-day casual life, or that wearing them would require some effort. Hilarious since, in retrospect, what I was purchasing five or even ten years ago was fairly cheap all things considered.

I no longer subscribe to this way of thinking at all. Not only is wasteful as a consumer (many of my purchases of yore ended up sold, donated, or given to friends unworn at some point), but I simply don’t see the point in owning something if you don’t wear or use it. You’re missing out on a good deal of easy pleasure and contentment with your wardrobe, and often adding a lurking sense of disappointment, guilt, or sheepishness about owning things you don’t touch.

For example, a couple of years ago I’d saved up to purchase a nice work handbag which I’d researched, considered for a long time, and found an amazing deal on.  I’d bought it specifically to upgrade my professional wardrobe and knew how I wanted to use it with my existing clothes, but for a long time was afraid to take it out of its dustbag. What if it got scratched or smudged? What if I dinged the hardware? What if I scuffed it? I was so nervous about putting any wear and tear on it, that I failed utterly to use it. It sat, reproachfully, in my closet for months before I confronted myself about it.

Of course I would need to care for it more carefully than I would a cheaper item, but eventually I had to acknowledge that any bag, no matter how coddled, was going to show signs of use. That’s what happens with any item, even a well tended one. In the end, I decided I either needed to resell the bag, or actually use it the way I had purchased it to be used. I chose the latter. And then I went through my closet and ruthlessly applied the same rationale to another of other items. That Liberty scarf in the image above was another similar victim of overcaution. Originally bought to celebrate a raise, I had almost never worn it out of worry that I’d damage it in some way. There were at least five other pieces of clothing or accessories that had similar excuses attached to their lack of use.

Far from having nothing to wear–a common complaint uttered when staring mournfully into a wardrobe–I just hadn’t been giving myself permission to wear what I wanted…and already had.

I own fewer items of clothing than I did while at university and my early 20s, but what I own now is of much better quality. More importantly, everything is worn regularly, including my more expensive pieces. I’m willing to occasionally fork out for beautiful vintage or consignment designer pieces, but only if I commit to myself to actually use them. I’m no longer worried about wearing them out–I’ve learned to take better care of my clothing over all, and I’ve come to the healthier mental place of acknowledging that ultimately, as beautiful as they are, they are just things. I get more satisfaction from my treasured pieces by letting them see the light of day than I do from looking at them on a hanger.

Don’t get me wrong, aspirational clothing still has its place (I’ve found the adage of “dressing for the job you want” to be a useful one), but I maintain it is no good to you hanging in a closet. Use it. Your wallet will be grateful and your mirror will be flattering, I promise.

Your turn. Have you every had items languish in your closet? What were your reasons for buying but not wearing? Are there any items which could do with a bit more love?