Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Summer Wardrobe Planning, Part 1

To tell you the truth, summer is my least favorite season for getting dressed, because it's always boiling hot outside and freezing cold inside, making it impossible to be comfortably dressed for both ends of the temperature spectrum. So far my solution has been to wear shorts and a t-shirt most days so that I don't melt the instant I go outside. I also always have a jacket or cardigan on hand in case I get too cold. This formula doesn't make for very interesting outfits though, and it doesn't help that I feel very uninspired by my current summer wardrobe. I would like to buy a few new pieces for summer to "refresh" my look and also better tie together the pieces I already own. I wasn't sure exactly where to start, but thanks to the power of Google, I found this wardrobe planning worksheet from Un-Fancy (does anyone else love her style too?). It's supposed to help you figure out your style and pinpoint missing pieces in your wardrobe. Since the planner is pretty long, I decided to break up this post into two parts. Part 1 covers what I like and don't like about clothes I already own, my lifestyle needs, and my personal style.

Step 1: Identify pieces I already own and love to wear. I tried to include a few pieces from each category: tops, bottoms, shoes, and dresses, along with reasons for why I like each item.

Favorites from left to right: a) black cotton tank; b) denim jacket and navy shorts; c) striped maxi skirt and sandals; d) striped tee, jacket, and sandals; e) linen shirt, jeans, and sandals

  • black flowy cotton tank (old, similar): love the scoopneck, longer length, doesn't emphasize stomach, super soft, wish I had more tank tops
  • classic denim jacket (new version): classic wash, cropped fit
  • skinny stripe tee: classic color combo, close fit is good for tucking into skirts
  • white linen button-down: thicker linen, not too sheer for white, flowy fit, not tight in shoulders/chest (I also loved my blue striped version, pictured above, which sadly ripped earlier this week)
  • navy 3" chino short (similar): no muffin top, I especially like the way it looks now that the color is faded to be kind of navy/grey
  • navy/grey striped maxi skirt (old): really comfortable, classic color scheme, warm enough for A/C, I always get complimented on it
  • white skinny jeans: crisp clean look, no muffin top
  • navy/white striped dress (not pictured, similar): one of the few casual dresses I own, loose fit, simple
Step 2: Look for common themes from Step 1. What I like to wear during summer:
Fabrics:  cotton, linen, denim
Brands:  J.Crew, J.Crew Factory, Everlane
Colors:  white, blue, navy, heather grey, stripes
Fit:  doesn't emphasize stomach, comfortable, flowy, not tight
Miscellaneous:  scoopneck, tank tops, neutrals, would like more casual dresses, simple/basic

Step 3: Identify pieces I own and never wear. There are very few pieces that I never wear, because I got rid of those when I moved, so instead I picked pieces I only wear sometimes and/or wear only when I run out of better options
  • silk ruffle blouse (old): afraid of stains, too shiny, too frou-frou/twee
  • ivory scallop cami: double-layer polyester too hot, too tight in the stomach (maybe need size up?), need to wear strapless bra
  • tie-back blouse: polyester too hot, itchy around the neck, need to wear strapless bra
  • black ripped jeans (old): love for fall, but looks too dark for summer
  • short skirts in general: they look nice, but too cold to wear in A/C, self-conscious about sitting/bending over
  • nude low heel sandal: love the look but rubs foot, can't walk for very long in even low heels
  • black Vans: love for fall/winter but too dark for summer
  • printed cami dress (old, similar): top fits well but waistband too tight
  • wish I had more casual dresses, I mostly own semi-formal dresses for weddings

Step 4: Look for common themes from Step 3. What I don't like to wear during summer:
Fabrics:  polyester
Colors:  black
Fit:  too tight, too short, need to wear strapless bra
Miscellaneous:  semi-formal dresses, uncomfortable shoes, heels, frou-frou

Step 5: How do I usually spend my time?
50% working at school
20% being active (gym, climbing gym, outdoors)
15% lounging at home
5% daytime out and about (mostly lumped into active, also not really a morning person)
10% evening out and about

Step 6: Upcoming special events and travel
No confirmed travel plans yet, maybe just a few short weekend trips
Need more sunwear for outdoors: sun (UPF) shirt, sun (UPF) leggings, wide-brim hat

Step 7: Identify the weather where you live.
June: low 80s to low 90s (feels hotter due to humidity), mostly sunny, occasional rain, humid
July: high 80s to high 90s (feels hotter due to humidity), mostly sunny, occasional rain, very humid
August: high 80s to high 90s (feels hotter due to humidity), mostly sunny, occasional rain, very humid

Step 8: Write a list of words or phrases that you associate with your style. Identify your favorite 3-6 words.
My style now: classic, simple, neutrals, stripes, casual, comfortable
What I want my style to be (the worksheet doesn't ask this): effortless, feminine tomboy (like Alterations Needed or Un-Fancy), Parisian chic
Favorite words: neutrals, comfortable, feminine tomboy, Parisian chic

I will post Part 2 soon, which covers brands that fit my style, my summer color palette, some uniform ideas, and a wardrobe shopping list.

Have you ever tried wardrobe planning? How would you describe your personal style?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Am I a Shopaholic?

A few weeks ago, upon coming home to find a bunch of packages lying around the living room floor, J jokingly called me a shopaholic. My first reaction was disbelief. Me a shopaholic? Yes, I buy a lot of stuff online, but I usually end up returning most of it. It can be hard to tell if something is going to work out when you order it online. It's even harder for clothes when you throw fit and hand-feel into the mix, but the same is true for non-clothing items too. In the moment, I shrugged off his comment, but over the next couple days, I kept coming back to it. Initially I felt a little stung and even offended. However, the more I thought about it, the more I admitted that maybe there was some truth to the matter after all.

When I think of a shopaholic, I think of someone struggling with a serious addiction, who has maxed out credit cards and hides the evidence of their shopping sprees from their family/loved ones. Neither of those statements are true for me. I pay off my credit cards in full every month, I don't have any debt, and I have savings. Also, I don't try to hide my shopping from J, which is how he was able to make a comment in the first place. However, it turns out those aren't the only signs of a shopping addiction. Other signs include:
 1.  buying lots of stuff and then returning them the next day
 2.  having many unopened, unused, or tagged items sitting around in your closet
 3.  buying things you don't need or didn't plan to buy
 4.  feeling a rush when you buy something new
 5.  shopping gets in the way of work or other hobbies
 6.  feeling the urge to shop as a reaction to negative emotions such as disappointment or sadness
 7.  shopping to celebrate a positive achievement

I can relate on some level to ALL of these signs, but especially #1, 3, 5, and 6. As I mentioned earlier, I order a lot of stuff online. Because I live in a condo, I have to pick up my packages from my building's front desk. Several of the concierge staff know me by name since they see me all the time, even though the building is really big with lots of residents. Also, a few years ago, when I lived in a different place, someone who worked at my leasing office asked me how I could possibly fit all these clothes from J.Crew into my apartment. I remember thinking it was rather rude of her to be so judgmental and that it was really none of her business, but I just replied that I returned most of my purchases. When I was moving out of my old apartment and had to clean out my closet, I found plenty of clothes that still had their tags on. I had never worn them, and yet I was still buying new clothes. Also, I spend thousands of dollars every year on clothes and hobby gear that are definitely wants and not needs. Given the context, now I find these signs troubling.

The truth is, I do have a tendency to shop when I'm bored, I feel down, or I want to procrastinate. I spend way too much time browsing online shopping sites, and the barrier to me clicking 'order now' is very low. It's only later when whatever I bought finally arrives on my doorstep that I actually decide whether to keep or return. That's really why I return as much as I do. So while I am not a full-blown shopaholic (since it hasn't driven me into debt or social isolation), I do think I have some shopaholic tendencies and should monitor my shopping habits closer as a result.

For the next couple weeks, I will be taking a step back from recreational shopping (aside from whatever I ordered prior to this post). I want to see how hard it will be for me to stop, which would provide some clarity on whether or not I have a problem. That means no new clothes or hobby gear, my two biggest splurge categories, unless I absolutely need it (not just want). I would like to take this time to focus on my other interests and plan more thoughtfully for what I will be buying in the future. I will report back on the results of my experiment next month.

Do you identify with any of these shopping addiction signs? Have you ever gone on a shopping freeze? Or have you tried something more gradual?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Serious Talk: My Struggles with Mental Health

I was shocked and saddened on Tuesday to hear that Kate Spade had apparently taken her own life at age 55. Her name was synonymous with fun yet accessible luxury. Like so many other women of my generation, my very first designer handbag was from her brand. I still remember how much I loved and treasured that red satchel I had found in the clearance section for $80. It's unfortunate that the life of such a warm and creative woman ended this way. Perhaps if our society was more open to discussing mental health issues and providing support for people who need help, this tragedy could have been prevented.

In light of this event, today I want to talk about a serious topic that is very important to me: mental health, specifically my own struggles with it. I debated whether I should share this information on the blog, because after all, it is an extremely personal subject. I ultimately decided in favor of it, because I want to help dispel some of the stigma surrounding discussions of mental health by sharing my own experience, and if doing so helps even one person reading this post, it would be worthwhile.

I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). In this post as well as older posts, I alluded to it in passing, but I feel like I've always danced around the subject, intentionally minimizing the impact it's had on my life. What is generalized anxiety disorder, you ask? Everyone feels anxious sometimes. Maybe you're worried about not having enough money to pay an unexpected bill, or you have a performance review coming up, or you're waiting on some test results from the doctor, or you're nervous before a big exam or presentation. These are examples of normal everyday anxiety, which are mostly rational and transient in nature. Generalized anxiety disorder is when you experience irrational anxiety that is persistent and overwhelming to the point where it interferes with your daily life. It means constantly worrying about things that shouldn't matter, irrationally avoiding activities or situations, and having out-of-the-blue panic attacks. Almost 20% of Americans suffer from it, and yet I rarely hear anyone discuss it.

I mentioned in this post that nowadays I lead a pretty active and adventurous life. That may not seem like a big deal, but for me, it was impossible to even imagine a few years ago. Circa 2010, I developed crippling anxiety while I was working. At the time I wasn't in a great place mentally. I was socially isolated, I didn't like my job, I was in a stressful long-distance relationship, and I had gained 10 pounds from living a sedentary lifestyle. All I ever did was work, eat, sleep, repeat. It was during this period that I had my first panic attack, which I didn't recognize as a panic attack at the time. (If you've never had one personally, let me just say that it is truly a terrifying experience. Some people have described it as feeling like they're going to die. Sometimes people even end up in the ER, because they think they're having a heart attack when it's actually a panic attack.)  It happened at work. I remember sitting at my desk and suddenly feeling very weak and dizzy. My heart was racing, I couldn't breathe, and I felt extremely nauseous. I was sure I would faint or throw up or both. I emailed my manager to say I wasn't feeling well, and I called my dad to come pick me up from the office. At the time, I thought maybe I had food poisoning and that it would pass. It didn't. This happened many more times, always striking seemingly out of the blue. I was terrified and became convinced I had a terrible mysterious illness. I frequented the doctor's office, hoping to find an answer. I went to a cardiologist, a neurologist, a pulmonologist, an ENT, and a gastroenterologist. I even had an MRI done of my brain. Everything came back normal, but I was still convinced there was something wrong with me. I obsessed endlessly about my health (hypochondria), because I felt like I needed to hunt down this "illness" and started to avoid social settings in case I "felt sick."

By 2014, the situation had turned desperate. At the time, I was already in grad school, which was super stressful. I still didn't recognize my "illness" as panic attacks. I was constantly drained and on edge. Because I was worried about "losing control" in front of other people when I "felt sick," I developed agoraphobia and started to avoid leaving the house. (Not coincidentally, I started blogging in 2014 as an escape.)  On the rare occasions we attended social gatherings, I had to be accompanied by my then-fiancĂ© in order to not feel panicky, and there were still times I felt so anxious we had to leave early with a hasty excuse.  My anxiety was exacerbated by my shame, my need to keep up appearances and not let anyone know that I was struggling (an irrational but common fear for people with GAD). I felt trapped and hopeless.

Finally, after months of encouragement from my then-fiancé, I entered therapy. That decision completely transformed my life. For two years, I worked with my therapist as well as in group therapy on the problem. Finally, in 2016, I was able to make a major breakthrough. I am proud to say that I have not had a panic attack since then. What worked for me was a number of things. First, I told the important people in my life my big, dark secret. Most of my friends were supportive, which actually helped dispel my fear of people seeing me feel "sick." They were also surprised, because they had never suspected; I was that good at hiding it. Some of them even confided in me about their own mental health struggles, and I successfully encouraged three of them to seek therapy too. Unfortunately, my parents have been slow to come around, because mental health issues are really stigmatized in immigrant Asian communities. I'm still glad I told them. Also I learned some coping strategies to help ease me through a panic attack. Most importantly, I try to moderate my overall stress levels by working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, seeing friends, meditating, journaling, and of course going to therapy.

Where the earth meets the sky (view from an outdoor rock climbing trip)

Today I am in a much better place mentally, which has given me the strength and energy to pursue the life I want to live. I travel, rock climb, cycle, ski, hike, spend time regularly with friends, etc. If you had told me a few years ago that I would be where I am now, I wouldn't have believed you. That's not to say there isn't more room for improvement. There are still times when I am irrationally anxious, but I try to not let it limit who I am or what I do. I am extremely grateful for the progress that I have made in therapy, and I hope I can continue to do so in the future. I also hope to continue being a mental health advocate for other people in my life.

If you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression, I want you to know THERE IS HOPE. Anxiety and depression are both liars. They feed off your loneliness, hopelessness, and despair, so they try to trap you into believing that you're powerless to change your situation. You can't trust the thoughts they put in your head. Please seek professional help as soon as possible. I promise you things will get better.

If you know someone who is or who you think might be struggling with anxiety and/or depression, please reach out to them. Let them know that you care and they're not alone. If you can, nudge them to seek professional help. We all need to do our part in saving lives. 

Do you or someone you know struggle with anxiety or depression? How do you/they cope with it? Do you think there's still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues? If you don't feel comfortable leaving a public comment, please email me at dresslikeanengineer{at}gmail{dot}com.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Cost of Living an Active Lifestyle

As I mentioned in this post, I used to be a serious couch potato until two years ago. In June 2016, I discovered a few activities that transformed my life, and now I am a much happier person for it. Recently I started wondering what the cost of that happiness is in terms of dollars. To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to go back through all of my online order histories and itemize the transactions. Luckily I only shop at a few stores, so the process wasn’t too tedious. I probably missed some little things here and there, but I think the numbers are in the right ballpark and provide a good lower bound on how much I’ve spent over the past two years on my active lifestyle.

I divided my costs by hobby into six categories: climbing, cycling, hiking, skiing, sailing (J is a sailor and he's been trying to get me into it), and miscellaneous. Climbing includes my monthly gym membership, climbing shoes, belay devices, harness, and other assorted equipment. Cycling includes the cost of my bike, bike parts/accessories, and cycling clothes. Hiking covers my backpacking backpack, daypack, and hiking boots. Skiing (a notoriously expensive hobby) includes my ski jacket, pants, boots, helmet, goggles, and base layers. So far sailing only consists of UPF clothing. Miscellaneous is the catch-all for everything else that doesn’t fall specifically into one of the other categories. For example, this includes activewear such as my Patagonia packable down coat, my beloved Patagonia fleece, and my Mammut rain jacket (50% off right now), which I wear for a wide variety of activities.

The total amount of money I have spent on my active hobbies between June 2016 to present is $5,198.16, which comes out to approximately $216.59 per month. Whew, that’s a pretty penny! For reference, a Chanel boy bag costs about $5,200. When I dive into the data, I see that my single most expensive purchase was my carbon fiber road bike at $1,053.92. It would have cost about $3,000 brand new, but I got an older model second-hand from an authorized dealer to “save” some money. Luckily, it’s just a one-time upfront cost, and now the more I ride it, the less it costs per mile. It also brings me a lot of joy, more than I would get from a handbag (even a Chanel one).
When I separate out the costs by hobby, it’s no surprise that cycling comes in at number one since the bike was so expensive. However, I was surprised that climbing was my second most expensive hobby, because the upfront costs aren’t particularly high (although it does start adding up when you climb outdoors since it requires additional safety gear that the gym usually provides). It makes sense though when I look at the break-down of upfront versus recurring costs. Over time, my gym membership dominates the overall cost and is actually more than the cost of the equipment and hardware that I own, and that percentage will only increase with time.

I also wanted to look at which stores were getting my money. The main retailers were REI, Backcountry, Evo, and Amazon. The ‘other’ category encompassed one-off purchases from specialty stores, including the dealer I bought my bike from. Apparently I spend most of my dollars at REI. No surprise since they have an amazing return policy, where you can return anything (even if you’ve used it) for up to a year with no questions asked. Backcountry gets the next biggest slice, because they frequently have the best prices on gear. Next is Evo, which is a great place to buy discount ski gear. Finally, Amazon is my go-to place for everything else.
I also did an analysis of how much I spent each month. As you can see, my most expensive month was June 2016 when I bought my bike. There was another spike in November of that year when I bought my first wave of climbing gear. I waited until I had been climbing long enough to be sure that I liked the sport. Then in Spring 2017, I started hiking more and going on outdoor climbing trips, so I bought two backpacks and a pair of hiking boots for that. In the winter, I went skiing for the first time with J (who is a fantastic skier). I needed ski clothes for the two trips we took last season, which included a week-long family ski vacation in Canada. Then in early 2018, I bought some cold-weather stuff that was super discounted, which I'm putting away for next ski season. In May 2018, I bought some more outdoor climbing gear as a birthday present for myself.
Hopefully I am mostly set now in terms of major equipment (unless I decide to buy my own skis later this year), and I won’t be spending too much more on new stuff going forward. I know this may seem like an enormous amount of money to spend on hobbies, but I consider it an investment in my mental and physical health. As I mentioned in this post about my financial situation, I don’t carry any debt, I have zero dependents, and I have savings. Also my expenses at the moment are relatively low (which I may talk about in a future post). I feel like at this point in my life, I can afford to spend some money on activities that are good for me which also bring me joy.

What’s your most expensive hobby? How much do you think you spend on it per year?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 2018 Budget

My birthday was earlier this month, so I bought a couple things in honor of the occasion. This year I decided to treat myself to a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones (I've already used them a bunch, and they'll come in handy for future travel) and some outdoor climbing equipment. My boyfriend thoughtfully got me a bike computer, which I have had my eye on for ages, since I want to start cycling more seriously and better track my rides. Unfortunately, the weather's been really crappy lately, so we haven't been able to take it out for a spin yet, but hopefully that'll change soon. On the shopping front, I've been looking for a new everyday purse, because my Rebecca Minkoff one is starting to look a little too well-loved. I ordered a few possible contenders but haven't received them yet. Here are the other things I bought this month:

J.Crew open-front sweater-blazer (navy XXXS) - All the bloggers have been raving about this
sweater-blazer (check it out on Feather Factor and Elle Blogs) and with good reason. It's comfortable, casual, and just easy. It looks just as good over a tee as it does over a button-down or a simple dress. There are currently two different versions at J.Crew. Both have the same silhouette but are made of different materials. The one I have is merino wool, and the other one is a cotton/poly/wool blend. Both passed my hand-feel test, but the online reviews suggest that the non-merino one might pill more easily. I went down a size, and the fit is just right. I think I'll get plenty of wear even in the summer months, because the air conditioning in my office is always cranked way up. Originally $138. Paid $53.86.

J.Crew demi-fine 14K gold-plated short chain necklace (gold) - I bought this nautical wheel charm from J.Crew last month, and because it bothered me that the gold chain I already own isn't a perfect color match, I had to get this chain too. I think it's pretty when worn by itself or layered with a longer gold chain. Originally $50. Paid $12.30.

J.Crew 8" toothpick jean (Glendale wash 24) - These jeans are a surprise love! They were a pop-back that I ordered on a whim, because I need to replace a few pairs of old jeans, and the price was definitely right. They feature new "Perfecting Pockets" that flatten your stomach, and I'm a fan. They really do work. No muffin top for me, which is a problem that I have with other jeans. Also they don't stretch out by the end of the day! I could do without the unfinished hems, but I'm also not bothered by them. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more Perfecting Pockets in the future. Originally $125. Paid $24.64.

J.Crew chardonnay t-shirt (white wine XXS) - I bought this tee, because I'm a wine person (although I prefer red to white). J.Crew also makes this red wine tee, but it didn't fit me as well (slightly too short on my long torso). The words on this version are white while the body is light beige, which is a hard color to pair with bottoms in my opinion. Also I wish the crew neckline was a little lower, which would be more elongating on the neck. Overall I like the fit, which is slightly long and drapey, and I think I'll get plenty of wear out of it since I pretty much live in tees during the summer. Originally $36.50. Paid $13.95.

J.Crew tassel chain necklace (rose gold) - I had tried the gold version of this necklace when it first came out years ago, but decided not to buy it since I already own a few long gold necklaces. Then a couple weeks ago I saw this new rose gold color, and it immediately caught my fancy. I like rose gold better for certain outfits (for example, all white) since it's less flashy. The tassels are not adjustable, so keep that in mind. Originally $39.50. Paid $8.28.

J.Crew leather bow hair ties (gold red pink) - I picked up these hairties on a whim when they were on deep sale (see them on me in this post). Although they're not the best at keeping my hair in a tight ponytail since the elastic isn't stretchy enough, I like wearing them as wristbands, and it's nice that they don't leave a crease in my hair. Originally $14.50. Paid $2.73.

(Not pictured) Old Navy classic flip flops (white 6) - Every summer I pick up a pair of Old Navy flip flops that I wear to the pool and to the beach. They're super cheap, so I don't mind if they get destroyed by the end of the season. I usually get white even though they get dirty more easily, because they also don't get as hot in the sun. Originally $3.99. Paid $2.72.

(Not pictured) EGNT RFID blocking card case (navy/silver) via Amazon - I like really minimalist wallets and am always on the lookout for a slimmer design so that it tucks into my bag better. Last week I posted about this Mackage card case that caught my eye, but I thought it was a little too pricey at $40. Also it has a key chain that I don't need, and the color may get dirty easily. So I turned to Amazon for an alternate solution. Lo and behold, I found this dupe that suits my needs much better. It has 6 outer card slots and a center zip pocket for cash, coins, and cards you don't use often. Not a brand name, but I actually don't care about that for wallets. So far I like how functional it is! Originally $14.99. Paid $14.99.

RETAIL: $422.48
SPENT: $133.47 (31.6% of MSRP)

What did you pick up this month? What were your favorite purchases?