Saturday, August 30, 2014

J.Crew Factory Reviews: Miscellaneous Fall Arrivals

Happy Labor Day weekend for those celebrating! I wanted to post a few reviews of items I tried on earlier this week at J.Crew Factory in case anyone is interested in braving the crowds this weekend. For reference, I am 5'4" and my measurements are 32C-26-34. I usually wear 00 and XXS at J.Crew and J.Crew Factory. My reviews use the following scale: love = 5, like = 4, meh = 3, blah = 2, hate = 1.

Houndstooth Print Sweatshirt (Sunwashed Sand XXS)

I didn't expect to like this sweatshirt as much as I did. First of all, the pattern looks more like gingham than houndstooth to me. Secondly, the fabric was fairly thin and didn't feel very soft. Despite these flaws, I still found this cute. The overall fit was definitely slim, but the arms and torso were comfortable. I think you could pair it with either a skirt or pants. If I didn't already own several sweatshirts, I would consider buying this for myself.

Verdict: Like the look but the fabric is meh. Don't need personally.

Layering V-neck Tee (Red Currant XXS)

I saw this tee sitting in the sale section for $9.99 before additional discounts so I grabbed it on my way to the fitting room. I was actually very pleasantly surprised. The cotton material wasn't too sheer. The V wasn't too deep for my modest sensibilities. The fit is perfect slouchy without looking sloppy. It just felt like an all-around better quality version of the retail vintage cotton tees that I love. I seriously debated purchasing it on the spot but ultimately passed since I don't love burgundy/maroon on my skin tone. I will definitely be checking out other colors though.

Verdict: Love. Look for other colors.

The store I went to didn't have this in XXS so I grabbed an XS to try on. Based on the way the XS fits, I think the XXS should be perfect. I was excited when I first saw this striped dress online, because the contrasting side stripes create the flattering illusion that my waist is smaller than it is. In real life though, the dress is a little lackluster. The skirt is a tad short to be considered knee-length. The combination of the colors and the widening effect of the shoulders made me feel like Tony the Tiger. Could work better for someone with a different coloring.

Verdict: Meh. Would have liked it better in ivory and navy stripes.

Geometric Graphic Merino Sweater (Graphite Ivory XXS)

I was so excited to see this in the new arrivals. Last year I lusted after and had even bought the retail version but ultimately decided to release it back to the wild, because the sleeves were tight to the point of feeling like compression cuffs. This new updated version is different from the original in several notable ways: a) the sleeves are plain instead of decorated; b) the merino wool isn't as plush (albeit still acceptable); and c) the sleeves felt comfortable. I just love the print, especially in such a neutral colorway. This is definitely my top pick from J.Crew Factory's recent roll-out.

Verdict: Love. Wait to see if it goes a little deeper on sale.

I've been looking for a cozy camel sweater to replace an old Lands' End Canvas one I donated. This seemed promising at first, because the wool blend felt soft to the touch, almost like an angora blend. After I put it on though, I noticed that the sleeves were too long, the neck hole was just a little too large, and the material was sort of itchy, especially around my shoulder blades. The overall fit was a little slim, so take your regular size if you want a fitted look and size up if you like the slouchy look. I think this could work for someone taller than me. Personally I'm going to pass and check out Gap's version instead.

Verdict: Meh. Could look better on someone taller than me.

Surprisingly I found a few items that I really loved. What are you loving at J.Crew Factory this fall?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 2014 Purchases

Background Info
I am currently an engineering grad student, and unlike many other disciplines, you can actually get paid (a little, not a lot) to attend grad school. I don't have to pay tuition and receive a small sum of money every month that covers my living expenses. The amount of money I get is fixed, which means my disposable income shrinks every year as my rent goes up, the price of gas rises, etc. Still I know I am very lucky that I do not carry any debt and also have some savings so that I don't have to worry about money during this period of my life.

Regarding my budget, I have set an amount of $300 for most months and $350 for the months of July and December/January. That may seem like a lot to some people. Heck, it seems like a lot to me. Eventually I would like to reduce this number to $200 per month, but I will need to do it gradually.

August Purchases
Unlike last month, I didn't go too crazy this time. I would like to think it was because I exerted greater self-control, but in reality, the sales just weren't as good. Most of my purchases are basics, so they should be very wearable and easy to remix.

August 2014 Purchases

1. Patagonia down sweater vest (black XS) - I had wishlisted this vest at the beginning of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, but my size and preferred color sold out almost right away. On the last day of the sale, the black popped back in XS, and I took it as a sign that we were meant to be. For lovers of the puffer vest trend, I highly recommend this one. It may run a bit small, since the XS fits me fine. I actually think it's nicer than the black J.Crew and J.Crew Factory puffer vests out this season, because it's less boxy and more fitted. This vest is also incredibly light (I can hardly feel any weight when I wear it) and warm for the weight. It can be layered casually and worn as activewear. Originally $179. Paid $118.90 - 10% off ebates = $107.01, a discount of 40%.

2. J.Crew maxiskirt in stripe (navy/heather gray XXS) - Shockingly this is the only J.Crew item I purchased all month. No, I don't have a fever. At the beginning of August, J.Crew packed up most of the overstock inventory and shipped it back to their warehouses, leaving the in-store sale section looking a little forlorn. Luckily I found this maxi skirt in my size right before that happened. Here's a picture from the fitting room. The length is perfect for me, but I'm only 5'4" with a 30" inseam. It may be too short for taller ladies. The fabric is very soft and stretchy. This should transition nicely into fall. Originally $75. Paid $54.99 - 50% off final sale - 15% student discount = $23.37, a discount of 69%.

3. Seafolly goddess bikini top (chartreuse US4/AU8) - This bikini is crazy flattering! See my review at the end of this post. Originally $92. Paid $56.05, a discount of 39%. I used an Amazon gift card (value $44.55) to bring my out-of-pocket cost to $11.50.

4. Seafolly goddess bikini bottom (chartreuse US4/AU8) - See above. Originally $66. Paid $29.09, a discount of 56%. Love!

5. Gap essential rib tank (heather gray XSP) - Shopping for blazers, coats, and dresses is fun, but shopping for basic knits like tees and tanks is boring. I finally forced myself to buy a few this month. I originally got the white version, but it was sheer so I purchased this one instead. This tank is quite long so I needed XSP. It also runs slim, so I could have sized up to SP if only the straps weren't so long. Originally $16.50. Paid $16.50 - 40% off - 4% off ebates = $9.50, a discount of 42%.

6. Converse Chuck Taylor low sneakers (charcoal 5.5M) - This is my second pair of Chucks. I also have an old black pair that's looking a little too beat-up. I sized down a half-size from my usual 6M since Chucks run long in the toe box. The classic colors rarely go on sale, so I jumped on these when I found them online. Originally $45. Paid $37.49 - 3% off ebates = $36.37, a discount of 19%.

7. Gap Supersoft v-neck tee (freesia XS) - I'm a big fan of the Supersoft fabric. It's just so thick and smooth and soft. The shirt does wrinkle easily and has a tendency to cling, but I find it to be very comfortable, and I think the dark lavender color is pretty. Even if I never wore this outdoors, it would make a great lounge shirt. Again the white version is sheer, but this color was not. Originally $19.95. Paid $19.95 - 40% off - 4% off ebates = $11.49, a discount of 42%.

8. Not pictured above: American Eagle mid-rise super skinny jean (medium destroyed 0S) - I've been looking for a lightly distressed pair of jeans, so hopefully these work out. Originally $49.95. Paid $29.99 - 5% off ebates = $28.49, a discount of 43%. EDIT: I ended up returning these, because they were a little too short, and the wash was lighter than I had expected.

RETAIL: $543.40 $493.45
TOTAL: $256.82 $228.33 (46% of MSRP) 

Thank goodness I came under budget this month, because I need to save for Altuzarra for Target next month. How did you do? What did you think of my purchases? Let me know!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sale Alert: Classic Burberry Trench

TGIF, everyone! I just wanted to share a quick sale alert for this classic Burberry trench.
Isn't it gorgeous? Such a wardrobe staple could be worn for years to come. If I had the money (and didn't just buy a J.Crew trench recently), I would totally snatch it up for myself. Sigh, maybe someday. Right now all sizes are available but backordered. If you're interested at all, I would recommend ordering right away!

Happy shopping, and have a good weekend!

Monday, August 18, 2014

J.Crew August Sale Reviews, Part II + Bonus Reviews

In Part II, I will continue my reviews from the previous post. I used the following scale: love = 5, like = 4, meh = 3, blah = 2, hate = 1. For reference, I am 5'4" and my measurements are 32C-26-34. I usually wear 00 and XXS at J.Crew. Let's get started.

Pintuck Sundress (White 00)

This dress has already been reviewed by Gigi and Ina, but the more the merrier.

This dress is basically a longer version of the pintuck cami. It still ran large and had the same thin string-like straps, but I liked it a little better. The white didn't seem sheer, the fabric was soft, and the dress had a bit of movement. It's too boxy as-is, but I think adding a belt would help. I could also see someone wearing this at the beach.

Verdict: Meh. Size down if you can. Add a belt for waist definition.

Merino Wool Exclamation Sweater (Heather Dusk XXS)

This sweater was sort of... boring. The silhouette was reminiscent of a Tippi that was one size too big, i.e. it ran slightly large in both the torso and sleeves. The merino wool was similar to what J.Crew uses for the Tippi. The light heather grey color was innocuous but also unremarkable. The only embellishment, that gold exclamation point, looked too junior and out of place.

Verdict: Meh. Better to just buy a light heather grey Tippi.

Lace Shift Dress (California Poppy 00)

I already own this dress in neon citrus, which I really like but haven't had a chance to wear yet. Like my other one, this fits me like a glove, especially in the stomach and hip regions. My figure is more straight up and down with slim hips, so I suspect pear-shaped ladies may not like the fit as much. Unlike the neon yellow, the poppy color didn't seem too sheer. The hem is knee-length on me, so some women may find it too short. Even though I like the dress, I'm not sure I should buy a duplicate, especially since I haven't worn the first one yet. (Fablifeforever also reviewed the dress in this color, so you can check out her review here.)

Verdict: Like. Wishlist and wait for deeper sale since I already own one in neon citrus.

Here are my impressions of a few items I ordered and returned last month.

Thomas Mason for J.Crew tuxedo shirt (white 00) - This shirt was a little too boxy and also long on my 5'4" frame even though I have a longer-than-average torso for my height. Also, the pleats hit at an awkward place on my bust, making me look wider than I am. Another thing to watch out for is the tuxedo collar, which I don't find flattering personally. I think it would look better with a classic spread collar. However, the fabric does feel nice and smooth. If they ever make it in 000, I would consider reordering it.

Opera-length glass pearl necklace - This glass pearl necklace was perfectly fine, although several of the knots between beads were too tight and made the necklace lie funny. Each bead was roughly 7 mm in diameter. I compared the beads against a real pearl necklace that I own, and the glass beads were more shiny, more gold-toned, and less pink than the real pearls. I ultimately decided to return it, because I thrifted an 8 mm glass pearl necklace for $4 from Goodwill.

Do you frequently buy the same item in different colors? Why or why not?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

J.Crew August Sale Reviews, Part I

I received my J.Crew rewards card in the mail last week and decided to swing by my local store this weekend. I made a beeline for the sale section, which had grown a little larger since my last visit. There were a lot of graphic tees and tanks, none of which really interested me. New sale items of note include the hibiscus floral shorts ($49.99 in-store) and the postage stamp mini in that same print (forgot to check the price tag), both of which are still full-price online. The in-store promotion was 30% off final sale.

I tried on some things at the store that caught my eye and decided to review them. My reviews will use the following scale: love = 5, like = 4, meh = 3, blah = 2, hate = 1. Most of the sale items in-store were the same price as online. The ones that were priced differently I will call out.

For reference, I am 5'4" and my measurements are 32C-26-34. I usually wear 00 and XXS at J.Crew.

Vintage Cotton Tank (Light Pulp XXS)
$19.99 final sale in-store vs $22.50 promo online

I've tried on other vintage cotton tanks before, and the armholes were always too big. Surprisingly this one was fine. I'm not sure if J.Crew fixed their fit from last season or maybe the sizing for these tanks is just inconsistent. I suspect the latter, because I've run into similar sizing issues for the vintage cotton tees that I like. I would recommend trying on this tank in-person before buying. The color is a light, slightly sheer, not-quite-neon yellow that I liked. Ultimately I didn't buy the tank, because I need more basic colors. 

Verdict: Like. Don't buy without trying it on. I'll look for other colors.

Silk Pocket Blouse (Warm Iris 00)

This is a plain serviceable blouse that would be suitable for work. I was initially attracted to the color, a deep hydrangea (not cobalt blue as photographed) that did not disappoint. The silk blend fabric felt slightly thicker than the Blythe that I own, and the overall cut was slim. However, the torso and sleeves were too long, which is good news for ladies who are 5'5" and up. Perhaps this would look better on me if I got a 00P or maybe 000.

Verdict: Meh. Could be ok for taller ladies. I wouldn't buy this on final sale.

$34.99 in-store vs $49.99 online

This top was already reviewed by Gigi, but I wanted to add my two cents.

I liked the cheery yellow color and soft cotton fabric of this top, but that's all I liked. It runs very large and is also voluminous, adding unnecessary visual weight to my frame. The side view is especially atrocious; the top looks like it belongs in maternity wear. Also, the straps felt like two cheap strings. J.Crew should have added adjustable straps so ladies can control how high or low the top sits.

Verdict: Blah. My advice is to size down. Personally I'll pass.

I am still working on Part II of my review, so please stay tuned.

Did you pick up anything from this sale?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Altuzarra for Target Preview

I am just a little bit obsessed with Target designer collaborations. Over the past few years, I have followed Jason Wu, Neiman Marcus, Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim, and Peter Pilotto. Some collections were great and others not so great (I'm looking at you, NM and PP). Regardless it's interesting to see how designers translate their high-fashion runway style into everyday wearable looks. Not to mention, the frenzy surrounding each release is always exciting.

For Fall 2014, Target is partnering with award-winning designer Joseph Altuzarra. His collection's lookbook has just been released here and here. Below are four of my favorite outfits.

Is it just me or do these look very American Hustle? The entire collection has a sexy retro 70's vibe. I could totally see JLaw or Amy Adams wearing those dresses. 

The following pieces are on my personal wishlist, because they seem the most wearable on a day-to-day basis and can be easily remixed.

Altuzarra For Target
Peplum blazer in black, $54.99

Altuzarra For Target
Tuxedo ankle pant in black, $34.99

Altuzarra For Target
Bow blouse in black and white, $29.99

Altuzarra For Target
Sweater with crane embroidery, $49.99

Altuzarra For Target
Bow blouse in black swiss dot, $34.99

Altuzarra For Target
Structured dress with crane embroidery, $49.99

Yes, I have a weakness for tie bow blouses. Overall I am very excited by the preview of this collection and hope that the quality of the pieces will be up to snuff.

Altuzarra for Target will be available online and in select stores starting September 14, 2014 so be sure to mark your calendars.

Are you excited about Altuzarra for Target? What pieces are you interested in buying?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sink or Swim

Like many women, I hate shopping for swimwear. It can be so difficult to find a swimsuit that is simultaneously flattering, secure (no risk of flashing), and affordable. My last one was a sporty one piece from over 4 years ago, which was great for swimming but felt silly for the occasional beach trip or pool party. Every year I wanted to find a better alternative, but I was always defeated before I even began my search by the bewildering number of choices.

One piece or two piece (or both)? Halter, bandeau, or triangle top? What size do I need? Will this fall off if I get in the water?

Last month I finally gritted my teeth and began looking in earnest. I wanted something that fulfilled the following criteria:
  1. It must be a bikini. I already have a one piece, and it makes me feel dowdy, so hopefully a two piece would fix that. I'm not ready for the monokini yet. To me it somehow looks too sexy even though it offers more coverage than a bikini. Go figure.
  2. The top needs to be adjustable behind the neck and preferably in the back. Frequently bikini tops are alpha sized instead of by bra band/cup size, and there is a lot of variance across manufacturers. Finding your correct size mostly seems to be a trial-and-error process. For example, I tried on some bikini tops from J.Crew recently, and I couldn't find anything that fit me properly. I am a 32C and normally wear a 00/XXS there. When I tried on a few XXS swim tops, they were fine in the band but a little too small to cover my boobs. I also tried on a 32C bandeau top, but that one was too loose in the band. It would be easiest to get a top that I can adjust to fit myself.
  3. The bottom should have moderate to full coverage. I guess I'm fairly modest and don't feel comfortable revealing my butt cheeks to the public. 'Nuff said.
  4. The top and bottom should stay put when I'm swimming in the water. This seems obvious, but I swear many bikinis are designed just for lounging rather than actually swimming. A long time ago I bought a black bandeau top (with a thin halter strap) and matching black hipster bottoms from Victoria's Secret, which fit securely before I got in the water. Once I started swimming though, water would force its way down my cleavage, dragging the whole top down. My bottoms would also slip down whenever I tried to get out of the water. Worst swimsuit ever.
  5. The whole set should preferably cost less than $100. Why are swimsuits so dang expensive? Considering how little fabric there is, the cost per square inch is extremely high. I don't get that many wears out of a bikini, so I would like to keep the cost under control. 
I felt like I wasn't asking for a lot, but it still took me a while to find the one

First I tried this beautiful blue print set from Topshop that I bought at full price from Nordstrom. Prior to ordering, I was confused by the sizing listed on Nordstrom's website. At European stores, I usually wear a US4/UK8. Topshop is a British retailer, so I wasn't sure if the number outside the parentheses was the UK size. I used Nordstrom's online live chat feature to talk it over with customer service and decided to order an 8 (6-8 US) based on their recommendation. That ended up being about 2 sizes too large. The size 8 top wasn't terrible, because I could adjust the neck and back. Either a size 4 or 6 would have been perfect. The bottom was huge on me, so I predict a size 4 would have been ideal. Sadly those sizes were sold out. I was more than a little heartbroken since the print and style were so beautiful.
Recovering from my disappointment, I found another suit on deep discount at Nordstrom. This time I ordered my proper size 4 (0-2 US) and eagerly awaited its arrival in the mail. When I received it, I found that the bottom fit perfectly, but the top was too small. The Topshop bustier styles really are intended only for B cups at most even when you order larger sizes, so my cup runneth over. The reviews mentioned that issue, but I (mistakenly) thought I could sneak through with a 32C, which is the sister size to a 34B. Another issue for me is that I have a larger top and smaller bottom, preventing me from buying bikini sets in the future. This may not be an issue for women who are well proportioned.
Finally I gave up on Nordstrom and turned to Amazon. I am a Amazon Prime member, so I tend to buy lots of things from there since I get free 2-day shipping and free returns. Amazon is my secret treasure trove of sale shoes and clothing. Last year I bought some Pour La Victoire boots (similar here) and Sam Edelman booties at a hefty discount. I stumbled upon this Seafolly bikini while browsing the swimwear section. The glowing reviews aroused my interest at once. Prior to ordering, I had never heard of the brand. I did a little research and found that Seafolly is an Australian company specializing in swimwear and beachwear. Their essential swim collections offer mix-and-match styles in a number of colors, increasing the versatility. Sizing varies from AU 6 (US 2) to AU 18 (US 14). I immediately ordered the Goddess wrap bandeau top, the pleated hipster bikini bottom, and the twist band hipster bottom in AU 8 (US 4). The sizing for the top and pleated bottom were spot on. I found the twist band hipster a bit large, but I also have unusually slim hips.

After trying on everything, I can see what all the fuss is about. This bikini is crazy flattering! In fact, it's the best one I have ever tried. The wrap bandeau style is simultaneously modest and yet sexy. The back was not adjustable, but the strap and locking closure were very secure. The thicker halter straps could be adjusted as desired and were very comfortable. The bandeau itself had molded cups sewn inside. The pleated bottom was secure and had moderate to full coverage. The bright chartreuse color (somewhere between neon yellow and neon green) I ordered instantly made my skin glow. No muffin top was in sight. The pieces seemed high quality and well made. The only issue in my mind is that Seafolly is generally very expensive. At full price, this bikini totals a whopping $158. I paid about $85 for mine (the most I've ever spent on swimwear). Still it is well worth the price to find a flattering, well-fitting, high quality swimsuit that boosts your self-confidence. I will definitely be buying another Seafolly bikini in the future!

Where do you usually shop for swimsuits? What are your favorite swimwear brands? Have you ever tried Seafolly? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

J.Crew Factory Reviews: Novelty Quilted Puffer Vest, Warmspun French Knot Sweater, Patterned Oxford Button-down Shirt, Flared Skirt

I went to J.Crew Factory earlier this week to try on some new arrivals and wanted to share my impressions. I will be using the following scale: love = 5, like = 4, meh = 3, blah = 2, hate =1.

Novelty Quilted Puffer Vest

Novelty quilted puffer vest (black XXS)
First up, the 2014 version of the coveted herringbone excursion vest. This is currently backordered online, but the store I went to had a full range of sizes as of Tuesday. If you want to get your hands on one but are too impatient to wait until November, try calling your local store. Don't sleep on it though, because they're going like hotcakes.

I took my normal J.Crew size of XXS. The store I visited had 3 in that size, so I tried on all of them and bought the one that fits best. It's not obvious in the picture above, but the vest is a little boxy, even when layered over my Madewell Bien Fait sweatshirt (which is admittedly thin). It also gaps slightly in the underarm region. For a light layer, it is surprisingly warm. I would recommend sizing down if you plan to wear it with thin tops and sticking with your usual J.Crew size if you want to pair it with thick sweaters. Personally I would have sized down if I could, but sadly I'm out of luck. Interestingly enough, an in-store sales associate told me that Factory is expected to start carrying XXXS in another year. I hope that's true, but I'm taking it with a grain of salt for now. Anyway, I still like the way the vest looks despite its imperfections and know I would have deeply regretted not buying it.

Verdict: Love the look but dock 1 point for fit = like. Bought and would recommend others to buy ASAP.

Warmspun French Knot Sweater

Warmspun French knot sweater (white XXS)
This sweater is similar to the retail merino Tippi sweater in french knot. I found the XXS to be comfortable, and the fit was comparable to other retail Tippis. The material was soft but seemed like it might be prone to pilling. The white was sheer, which you can see if you look closely at the waistband of my jeans. I suspect this may be an issue with only the white version.

Verdict: Meh. Don't need, won't buy.

Patterned Oxford Button-down Shirt

Patterned oxford button-down shirt (navy 00)

Patterned oxford button-down shirt (navy 00)

Patterned oxford button-down shirt (navy 00)
I impulsively grabbed this on my way to the fitting room, and I actually really like it! The shirt was a tiny bit long for my 5'4" frame but still within acceptable bounds. The print is inspired by the retail horsing around sweatshirt. The fabric is quite thick, so it's more suitable for late fall and early winter. The navy and white color scheme tones down this busy print and makes it easier to pair with other things.

Verdict: Like. Wishlist and wait for sale.

Flared Skirt

Flared skirt (ivory 00)

Flared skirt (ivory 00)
This skirt is a dupe of the retail fluted skirt, which I like and own in black 00. The sizing of the Factory version was comparable to the retail one if not a tiny bit bigger. My main complaint about this skirt is that the ivory is slightly see-through. In person, you could see the pink stripes of my Factory bar-stripe tee underneath the skirt. This bothers me and would limit the skirt's versatility since I would have to add a slip underneath. Also, the fabric felt a little thinner than the retail one.

Verdict: Blah. Don't like, won't buy.

What do you think of these items? How do you feel about the possibility of J.Crew Factory also carrying XXXS? Please share.