Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November 2014 Purchases

After last month, I had $615.83 left in my budget for November and December. My goal was to try and save most of this money for after-Christmas shopping since that's the best time to score amazing deals. However, I got derailed by the barrage of pre-Black Friday sales from retailers this month. At least I didn't overdo it and tried to make thoughtful purchases.

November 2014 Purchases

For example, I was able to add three new pairs of pants to my wardrobe. I was previously working with only 3 or 4 pairs that I actually liked and wore regularly, so I have to say this was a big improvement. I'm shocked to say that they all came from J.Crew! I've never had any luck with their pants before, especially not their toothpick jeans. Before the rise was too low, the waist was oddly tight, and the area behind the thigh/knee was a hot mess. I decided to give them another try when I heard from several bloggers that J.Crew had improved the fit. Now the rise is slightly higher (which I love!), and the material has more stretch. Even if the toothpicks didn't work for you before, be sure to try them again!

1. J.Crew sateen toothpick pant (dark fatigue 26) - This is my favorite pair of pants out of the three, because the dark olive color is gorgeous and seems to go with everything. I had to size up from my usual 25, because it was too tight in the waist (common problem for me). If you have a small waist, stick with your normal size. Also, the thick sueded fabric is a little stiff at first, but it softens up after being worn for a few minutes. Originally $98. Paid $49.99 + 30% off + 2% off ebates = $34.29.

2. J.Crew toothpick jean in blacksmith wash (blacksmith 24) - This is my first pair of distressed jeans, and I bought them as an experiment. I've always avoided them before, because I was worried about durability despite liking the way they looked. These were lightly torn at the knee when I first got them, and I wasn't sure how quickly they would completely tear over time. I've had these for almost 3 weeks now, worn them a few times, and also machine washed them. The knees have frayed a little more but not as much as I would have expected. If you're interested, now's a good time to pick up a pair. Originally $125. Paid $69.99 + 40% off + 15% student discount = $35.69.

3. J.Crew stretch toothpick jean in miller wash (medium miller wash 24) - These are a little shorter than the black pair, ending slightly below my ankle (I have a 30" inseam). They're super stretchy and run large, so I sized down to 24. They're a little pricey, but it's so hard to find good pants that I'll take what I can get. Originally $125. Paid $89.99 + 40% off + 2% off ebates = $52.91.

4. Gap cable-knit sweater (plum heather XS) - I already own this sweater in ivory and have been wearing it regularly (see it on me here). It's pretty thick and fitted. Not as warm as 100% wool since it's a cotton/wool blend. I don't find it too itchy against my skin, but then again I'm not super sensitive to wool. I'm usually not a fan of burgundy with my skin tone, but I love this color. It has more purple undertones than red, so maybe that's why it works. Originally $59.95. Paid $59.95 + 40% off + 7% off ebates = $33.45.

5. Zara checked scarf - I'm glad blanket scarves are all the rage this season. I mean, how often is a trend functional and comfortable? Anyway I'll get behind any trend that makes wearing a blanket outdoors socially acceptable. I was initially interested in the ubiquitous tan/green/red version, but that color combo wasn't the most flattering on me. I eventually found this beauty at Zara! Well, eventually found is not exactly accurate. More like saw it online, lamented the fact that it was sold out, and then proceeded to stalk it for several weeks. I'm glad I was able to snag it in the end though. It's gigantic and super soft. I rarely pay full price for anything on general principle, but I had to have this. Originally $29.90. Paid $29.90.

6. Amazon sunglasses - These are a great dupe of the Karen Walker Super Duper sunglasses (up to 25% off here). I love the idea of owning designer sunglasses, but I've lost or broken so many pairs that I should probably just stick with the cheapies. Plus I can experiment with more styles. These are nice and sturdy with UV 400 protection. The lenses are huge though, so they may not work on small faces. Originally $30. Paid $5.88.

7. Gap supersoft v-neck tee (pink heather XS) - I just recently discovered the joy of layering a long-sleeve tee under a button-down. It felt like such a duh moment, but it's really revolutionized the way I dress. Since that discovery, I've been looking for more layering tees for winter. This tee isn't as soft as I'd like, but it ran small so the XS was pretty fitted. The light pink color was cheerful, so I decided to keep it. Originally $19.95. Paid $9.97 + 30% off + 7% off ebates = $6.49.

8. Gap suede loafers (pinot noir 6) - I reviewed these here. Great value for genuine suede. The color is amazing. Originally $49.95. Paid $24.99 + 40% off + 4% off ebates = $14.39.

So my total for the month comes to...

RETAIL: $537.75
SPENT: $213.02 (40% of MSRP)

LEFT FOR DECEMBER: $402.81!


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Right now J.Crew is having a global 30% off sale (which is the best store-wide discount I've ever seen) so I ordered this skirt (reviewed here), these flats, and this tee. I also ordered these loafers and this tweed blazer from J.Crew Factory since everything is 50% off. I anticipate that most of these items won't work out, because I tend to have a very high return rate. I'll account for them in next month's budget since they haven't arrived yet.

Linking up with Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers. I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and happy shopping!

Monday, November 24, 2014

J.Crew Reviews: Fringe and Elephant Parade

I stopped by my local J.Crew this weekend to check out the new arrivals and poke through the sale section. They were taking an additional 40% off sale, but I couldn't find a single thing I wanted to buy. That's okay, because I'm saving up for after-Christmas holiday shopping anyway. After pawing through the sale stuff, I moved on to looking at items from the latest roll-out.

The two themes that I loved best from this roll-out were fringe and the elephant parade fabric. I've always loved fringe, because I associate it with flappers in the Roaring 20s. And the elephant parade print is actually the first time in a long time that I've fallen head-over-heels in love with a print from J.Crew. The gold and black brocade was used in several items. My top pick was this gorgeous pair of smoking slippers (online only), but sadly they sold out almost immediately. I'm vigilantly watching for a popback. Luckily there are other options that I'll review below.


Silk Fringe Scarf (Style B6255)
The website describes this fringe scarf as silky and drapey. Although it is made of 100% silk, it wasn't soft or drapey at all; the one I tried on was sort of stiff, almost like a lighter satin. That bothered me at first, but once I got over it, I noticed that this scarf really is quite beautiful. I love the length, the swingy fringe, and the subtle luster of the material. It comes in three different colors: ivory, black, and shell pink. All were gorgeous in real life, but I would steer clear of the lighter colors, because they're more likely to get stained. I think black would be the most versatile and very nice for the holidays, especially paired with a little party dress. As pretty as the scarf is, it really isn't very functional for my day-to-day life since silk can be high maintenance and it doesn't provide any warmth. Personally I would only buy it on sale.

Verdict: Like. Not very functional, so wait for it to go on sale.

Fringe Tank (Style B6374)
Black XS

This top immediately caught my eye when I was browsing online, because I'm obsessed with all things fringe. When I got to the store, I didn't see any xx-smalls on the floor so I had to ask a sales associate for help. Turns out they were too popular at my store and sold out, so I grabbed an XS to try on instead. The XS was a little loose in the torso but not noticeably so. The armholes were also fine, so I think this top runs a little small.

I don't know what it is exactly, maybe the fit or something else, but this top just lacked pizzazz in person. It was a little too long (tunic length) and a little too boxy. It felt like a very simple tank that someone slapped a random fringe layer on. The material of the main body was a little thin and sheer when held up to the light, but the dark color masks that fact well. It had a back zip that makes getting in and out easy. However, I really disliked the fringe itself. It should have felt swingy and silky. Instead I can only describe the tactile feeling as greasy. Somehow it felt like the fringe had a layer of oil on it, which made touching it unpleasant. That aside, the tank was fine but didn't feel all that special.

Verdict: Meh, runs slightly small.

Origami Skirt in Elephant Parade (Style B5282)
Size 00
This mini was my second favorite elephant parade item online, and I'm so glad I was able to see it in real life. First of all, the fabric did not disappoint. It was absolutely stunning! The gold elephants really popped against the black background. The silhouette was a semi-faux wrap style, with the inner wrap extending to the opposite hip as the slit. The slit shouldn't open too much unless you stand with your legs far apart. In general I don't really foresee it being an issue. I tried on my usual 00 and found it true to size. Not too tight in the waist, and nice fit in the hips. The length is definitely short but not immodest. While it was fine on my 5' 4" frame, I would not recommend wearing it at a conservative workplace, and I would suggest being careful when bending down. The skirt was lined on the inside, and it had a back zipper. Instant love for me, and it's a must-have.

Verdict: Love, true to size.

Girls' Pull-on Skirt in Elephant Parade (Style B4727)
Size 14
After my success with the ladies' origami skirt, I thought I would try on this full skirt from the children's department. Big mistake. I tried on both sizes 12 and 14 (pictured above). Both were terribly poofy and oddly square when viewed from the side. The elastic waist was too tight, yet there was too much room in the hips. Maybe it would be cute for a very small little girl (7 and under?). The shape is incredibly unflattering on grown women, and I imagine it also wouldn't work on preteens.

Verdict: Blah, not suitable for grown women.

Girls' Elephant Parade Dress (Style B4732)
Size 14
I eye-measured this dress and thought I could squeeze into a size 14. Actually the result wasn't too bad. I would compare it to a 00. The dress was lined, not too poofy in the skirt, and it even had pockets. However, it wasn't cut for my body shape. The waist was a little tight for me and ended up sitting on my rib cage (I'm long waisted). Also it was too tight in the shoulders, and it was hard to step into the dress, because the zipper didn't go down far enough. The zipper issue can be avoided if you slipped it over your head instead of stepping into the dress. I do like the silhouette and adore the fabric, so I think this could be a great option for someone who is shorter than me (5' 4") or short-waisted and had normal to narrow shoulders. If that's you, congratulations!

Verdict: Like, pass for me personally.

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Since the origami elephant parade skirt is a must-have for me, I placed an order with today's 30% off global promo. We'll see if the prices get better by Black Friday/Cyber Monday. I'm not sure if other people are loving the print. If not, we could see even better discounts after Christmas.

How do you feel about J.Crew's elephant parade print?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sweater Season





Sweater: Gap (review)
Cashmere Scarf: Stolen from Engineer W (old, similar, similar)
Necklace: J.Crew Factory (old, similar)
Boots: Pour La Victoire (old, similar)
Bag: Vintage Coach (similar, Ebay)

We had a cold snap here, so I broke out the winter gear early this year. While I'm excited about wearing my coats and boots, I can't say that I'm thrilled about the freezing cold weather. The only thing that makes this temperature tolerable is layering with cozy sweaters. Speaking of sweaters, I can't get enough of this cable knit one! I love the pattern, and the ivory color goes with everything. I like it so much that I picked up another one in plum heather.

Also, has anyone else been loving the smoking slipper trend recently? When it first came on the scene, I hated the look, but somehow it's grown on me over time. In an attempt to branch out from my usual pointy toe flat, I ordered this burgundy suede slipper on super sale, and I really like the way they look on my feet! I got a 6 and found them true to size. They do rub a little at the heel, so I plan to add some Foot Petals. I included some pictures below. The last one is the most true to color although it still looks too reddish brown.



How are you dealing with the cold? And do you love or hate smoking slippers?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Life and Amazon Shopping Tips

Where did this past week go?! It feels like the days have just flown by. Or more accurately, merged into one very very long day, and suddenly we're at Sunday. I feel like I started this week on the back foot and never really recovered. Part of it is because we went karaoking last Saturday and stayed out waaay past my bedtime, creating a domino effect on the rest of the week. It took me until Friday to finally get my sleep schedule back to normal. I also didn't cook on Sunday so I had no leftovers to eat when I came home on Monday, and I was left playing catch-up all week. Hopefully this week I can finally get back on track.

I've also been bad about blogging regularly. Usually that's the first thing to slide when I'm tired or stressed or just plain busy. I would like to make it a higher priority. I really admire people who are able to post high-quality content two to three times a week (or more!) on top of juggling their day jobs and/or being a parent. How do they do it all?

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Anyway, today I thought I would answer a question I got from a few readers about shopping on Amazon. Periodically I mention the great deals I've gotten from there, and people were curious about how to do that. Here are some tips I've picked up over the years. Skip to the bottom if you want to see some of the steals I found in the course of writing this post.

1. Narrow down your search. When you go to Amazon's website and search for an item you want, you get an overwhelmingly large number of returned results. So many that it's impossible for you to look through all of them. For example, when I type "jeans" in the search bar, I get 149,773 results. Luckily there are a number of filters on the sidebar to help you narrow down your search. When I click on Women > Clothing > Jeans, then there are only 20,216 results. You have to get to that level before they show you further filters for size.

2. Filter by discount and seller. Then the next filters I apply are for the discount and the seller. I usually select 50% off or more, which strikes a good balance between deep discounts and reasonable selection. As for the seller, I always select Amazon.com, because I know they have a decent return policy. Amazon also has third-party sellers, but I would rather avoid the hassle of figuring out the individual return policy for each seller. At this point, you're down to 954 results. Another option is to set the maximum price you're willing to pay.
 




 3. Filter by size. I tend to choose a range of sizes, because you never know what's going to run large or small. Currently there seems to be a weird bug where you can only filter by numeric size (00, 0, etc.) OR waist size (24, 25, etc) for pants. So I would do them separately. When I select 00, 0, and 2, I get 583 results. When I select 24, 25, and 26, I get 629 results. At this point, you can continue filtering or start digging through the results.

4. Keep an open mind about the brand and model. If you're tied down to the exact brand and model, you won't be able to score the best price. However, if you're willing to look for a similar item, that could save you serious money. For example, I was looking for black leather knee-high riding boots a year ago. I was interested in a pair of Frye boots, but they never went on sale. Finally I relaxed my criteria and was able to snag a $450 pair of Pour La Victoire boots for only $150.

5. Play the waiting game. Like other retailers, Amazon partially bases their pricing on inventory levels. If they only have a few more of some item left in stock, sometimes the price can dip very low. That's usually the best time to buy. Of course you also run the risk of it selling out, but that's not a problem if you don't have your heart set on the exact version.

6. Keep a wishlist. If you see an item you like, add it to your wishlist. Then check back periodically to see if the price has dropped. The wishlist remembers the price of the item when you added it and lets you know how much the price has dropped since.

7. Get on Amazon's email list. Sometimes they send out emails about sales, where you get an additional discount on top of already discounted prices.

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I like to use Amazon to shop for dresses, jeans, shoes, and bags. Just in the course of casual browsing for this post, I found the following steals.

Dresses: sequin mini-dress, cotton eyelet dress, red silk dress, scalloped front dress, structured little black dress
Jeans: skinny straight jeans (own), black skinny jeans, cargo jeans, white straight jeans
Shoes: black riding boots, simple tall boots, tassel flats, classic ballet flats, pointy toe flats
Bags: small brown satchel, blue quilted shoulder bag, black and white structured satchel, metallic shoulder bag, large leather tote

And these are just the ones that caught my eye immediately! There are lots of other goodies to be found. Please share if you find an amazing deal.

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, November 7, 2014

TGIF

Happy Friday, everyone! The weekend couldn't have come fast enough. Earlier this week I had an existential crisis about my research direction, because it turns out that the main contribution we proposed to do had already been done by another research group last year. I was feeling pretty discouraged, like I'm perpetually behind and can never catch up. Since then, I've come to see the bright side of things. For example, I would rather find out now than after I've finished all of my experiments and tried to publish the results. Also, if there are other groups working in this space, that means I'm on the right track since other people care about solving the same problem.

Now onto a more frivolous topic, weekend sales! There are some really good ones going on this weekend. Here are two of my favorites.

J.CREW
25% off fall favorites plus 30% off fall sale styles with code GETWARM through 11/11/2014. Note: final sale is off the table for now. Some JCAs said that you can get 40% off in-store, which is a better deal of course when stacked with already lower in-store prices, but final sale is in effect. Personally I would rather buy online with no final sale. To me it's worth paying a little extra to be able to try things out at home and think them over. If you know exactly what you want to get, then in-store is your best bet (assuming they actually have it in stock).

Sale Picks
Sateen toothpick pant - Complete misnomer; the fabric's not sateen at all. It's a nice sturdy lightly-sueded material. A little stiff at first but softens with wear. I got the dark fatigue color in size 26. I also tried on the 25, but it was too tight in the waist. I like these pants so much that I also ordered the snow and the black. Great price at only $35 a pair!
Toothpick in miller wash - Great reviews. Only larger sizes left.
Silk sleeveless blouse - I haven't tried this on in person, but I like the classic style. I ordered the ivory and the rose in 00P based on the reviews.
Silk sleeveless dress - What a steal at $21! Looks like something from Madewell. Ordered the warm iris in XSP to try.

NORDSTROM
Clearance sale. Save up to 40% online and in stores through 11/11/2014. I guess Nordstrom is scrapping their half-yearly sale? That's fine, because these prices are pretty good. Lots of shoes on sale. I've been looking for more sneakers, so I picked up these in wild honey.

Sale Picks
Lace sheath dress - Great for special occasions.
Gold flats - Add a little shine for the upcoming holidays.
Calfhair flats in black or leopard - This brand is usually so comfortable.
Metallic silver crossbody - I love crossbody bags. This one is 40% off!
Cashmere sweater - I have a black one from last year. Really warm and cozy. More slouchy than fitted though.

Have a great weekend, and happy shopping!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Closet Inventory Series: Boots

SALE ALERT: Get 25% off all shoes and boots at Piperlime with code FANCYFEET, now through 11/04/2014! I love these quilted over-the-knee boots, even though they're waaay out of my price range.

In an attempt to curb my spending, I thought it would be interesting over the next few months to take stock of what's currently in my closet and see if I can pinpoint any wardrobe holes. Check out the other posts in this series here.

I hope everyone had a fun Halloween weekend! We had a very chilly one here. It's like someone flipped a switch, and all of a sudden we're in winter mode. Luckily our Halloween costumes were seasonally appropriate (and mostly used pieces from our existing wardrobes). This year Engineer W and I dressed up as a couple of Harrison Fords. He went as Indiana Jones, complete with leather jacket and fedora. I went as Han Solo, wearing my black Pour La Victoire boots, an oatmeal J.Crew thermal, dark Madewell jeans, and my black Patagonia vest (used black tape to cover up the logo). Sadly I didn't get any good pictures of us, so you'll have to take my word that we looked pretty awesome. On Saturday, we followed our time-honored tradition of buying post-Halloween candy on sale at our local Target. Mmmm discounted Butterfingers...

Now that Halloween is over and we're officially in November, I can finally break out my coats and boots. Today I wanted to analyze my existing boot collection and see if there's anything missing.

Closet Inventory: Boots

Here's the lineup:
(from left to right)
Pour La Victoire Loryn Riding Boot (old, similarstealsplurge)
Michael Kors Tatum Riding Boot (old, similarstealsplurge)
Zara Combination Wellies (old, similarsimilarsplurge)

Boot Observations
Looking at the boots I already own, I'm noticing certain trends. There are definitely specific types of boots that I'm perpetually attracted to. For example:
- I seem to love black boots. Since I usually wear dark jeans, black boots visually make my legs look much longer than they are. Also, unlike brown, I don't need to worry about matching other shades in my wardrobe since black always matches black.
- I love boots with an almond-shaped toe. They seem to be the most flattering, especially for ladies with small feet. Very lengthening for the legs and makes the feet look narrow. Not too pointy and not too round seems to be the sweet spot.
- My favorite tall boot style is the timeless equestrian. Since boots are generally expensive, it's important to get a style that can be reworn year after year.
- I only wear flat and low-heeled boots. It's hard enough walking on snow and/or ice without worrying about slipping in high heels.

Boot Buying Advice
Since I'm philosophically opposed to buying things at full-price, all of my boots were purchased on deep sale (with the exception of the Zara wellies). I picked up the PLV boots for 67% off, the Michael Kors for over 50% off, the taupe Sam Edelman booties for 45% off, and the black Sam Edelmans for 70% off.

I was able to score these prices by shopping at places like Amazon, Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls. They usually have a large selection of boots, and as long as I was patient and kept an open mind about the brand/model, I usually found something I liked at the price I wanted. Also, another tip is to shop off-season. The PLV boots were so deeply discounted on Amazon, because they were still around in February. I found the black Sam Edelman Petty at a Nordstrom Rack in March. If you're lucky and plan ahead, you can score boots in late winter that you can wear through early spring and then save to wear again next year.

Personal Conclusion
Overall I'm really happy with my boot collection. The only style I would consider adding at this point is a leather over-the-knee pair to wear with dresses and skirts. My ideal color is, you guessed it... black. I'm in no rush to look for any though. If I happen to find the perfect pair at a deep discount, then I would consider picking them up.

What do you look for in a boot? What's your favorite place to buy boots?