Friday, March 27, 2015

March 2015 Purchases

March has been the month of the pant. Shortly after we adopted Catniss in February, two pairs of my jeans bit the dust. First my favorite medium blue pair got destroyed by her overly long kitty claws, and then I found a hole in the seat of my beloved dark grey American Eagle jeggings. So I started searching high and low for their replacements. I bought a few pairs at the beginning of the month that I liked so I could have just stopped there... but I didn't. Since I was on a roll, I kept trying on more and more pants. Over the course of this month, I've tried on at least 12 pairs. Out of those I decided to keep 4, which sounds like a lot. In my defense, it's really hard for me to find pants that fit well so I think it's fair to keep any that do since I have to try on so many pairs to get one keeper. Pants aside, I also picked up a pair of earrings and a floral tee this month. Here's what worked out for me.

March 2015 Purchases

Madewell skinny skinny sateen jeans (true black 26 and dark olive 26) - I reviewed these jeans back in October of 2014, and it took almost 6 months for these babies to finally go on sale. I was so excited that I ended up ordering all three colors. I originally wanted the plum, but I have another pair now in a similar color, so I decided to return those and keep only the black and olive ones. So far I've only worn the black pants, but I really like them. They're super comfortable, because they're so soft and lightweight. They did stretch out a little in the legs throughout the day but not enough to bother me. Perfect pants for warmer weather. Originally $128 per pair. Paid $79.99 + 30% off + 2% off ebates = $54.87 each.

J.Crew toothpick cone denim in parker wash (parker wash 25) - This is my favorite toothpick jean to date. I love the medium-dark wash, which is a versatile shade of blue/grey. The whiskering may be a bit aggressive for some, but I like how they add depth and dimension. I also really like the length, which is a little longer than other toothpicks I own. The best thing of all? They don't stretch out with wear! I've already worn these jeans four times this month, and they haven't really stretched out at all. These are well worth the money, and I highly recommend them. I'm considering buying a second pair. Originally $125. Paid $98 + 30% off + 30% off (price adjustment error in my favor) + 10% off + 1.5% off ebates =  $42.57.

Gap 1969 Resolution slim straight jeans (black stonewash 26P) - Has anyone else tried the new Gap Resolution jeans? I think they're a big improvement over Gap's older styles. The material has gotten a little thicker and the rise a little higher. I find the new fit much more flattering. I decided to buy this pair, because the wash is the closest I've found to the American Eagle jeggings I wore all the time. Also, since I own so many pairs of skinny jeans, this skinny-straight silhouette is a breath of fresh air. Originally $69.95. Paid $69.95 + 40% off + 2% off ebates = $41.13.

Kendra Scott Elle earrings (turquoise/gold) - Last month I bought the Kendra Scott Elles in dark grey for 40% off. They're a great neutral, but I also wanted a statement pair. A few days ago, I saw that Nordstrom was price-matching Bloomingdale's Friends and Family sale, and the turquoise pair that I've long coveted is included! I finally snagged them. Originally $52. Paid $39.00 + 6% off Ebates = $36.66.

J.Crew Factory photographic floral collector tee (heather charcoal XXS) - Last weekend everything in store at J.Crew Factory was 50% off plus the extra 30% off coupon from Gilt City was in effect (not stackable with the student discount), so I thought I would stop by and check out the new arrivals. After wandering the whole store and trying on various things, the only thing I really wanted was this tee. It's still a little expensive after discounts, but I do really like it. It's a good way for me to ease into wearing more patterns. Originally $42.50. Paid $42.50 + 50% off in-store + 30% off Gilt City coupon = $14.88.

So this month's total comes to:
RETAIL: $545.45
SPENT: $244.98 (44.9% of MSRP)

My goal for the year is to spend less than $3000, which translates roughly to $250 per month. Right now I'm at $3000 - $52.89 for January - $29.33 for February - $244.98 for March, which leaves me with $2672.80 for the next 9 months, an average of $296.98 per month.


Earlier this month I tried on several pairs of white jeans (see my reviews here). I was sorely tempted to keep one of the pairs but ultimately decided not to, thanks to the wisdom of several readers who counseled me to continue my search. Thanks for your awesome advice!

Next month I would like to focus on button-downs and adding more colors/patterns to my wardrobe. I've been buying a lot of neutral classics lately, which is great for building a cohesive wardrobe but takes the fun out of getting dressed in the morning. It's time to bring back the excitement!

As always, I'm linking up with Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers! How did you do on your budget this month?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

White Out

I've been looking for the perfect pair of white jeans for months now. I've probably tried on close to 20 pairs but never found the one. My criteria are: not too sheer, doesn't make me look fat, mostly cotton, under $100, and with a 28" to 29" inseam. I would love to get this pair (thanks cobalt for the recommendation!), but they're currently backordered, and $115 is a little steep for pants that I'm worried about staining. So I kept looking for other options. Here are a few of my recent try-ons. (Sorry about the poor picture quality. Our indoor lighting is pretty terrible, so none of my pictures turned out well. I thought they were better than nothing though.)

For reference, I'm 5' 4" and 110 lbs. My measurements are 32C-26-34. I usually wear between size 25 and 26 for jeans, most often 25. 

Articles of Society Sarah Skinny Jeans (White 25)

Jean posted about this pair of white skinny jeans a while back, so I thought I would give them a whirl. They were better than I expected, especially for the low full price of $54. I like how affordable they are, but some of the other options out there are actually cheaper on sale. With Nordstrom, you may have to wait for a while before anything gets marked down. As for the jeans themselves, they were definitely sort of sheer, although not the most sheer I've ever seen. I would wear nude seamless underwear for sure. The length was on the longer side at 29" and the legs weren't sausage-casing tight, but the waist was too big, so I would recommend sizing down (unless you have athletic legs). The material (65% cotton, 33% viscose, 2% spandex) felt a little thin and cheap. Also, the front pockets aren't real, which is inconvenient but does prevent those unsightly pocket outlines. Overall, not the best option out there.

Verdict: Thin and somewhat sheer. Large in the waist.

(White 26)

Last month I tried on these jeans in my usual size 25, but they were too tight and made me feel fat. At the time I just blamed the fit, so I didn't even bother trying on a larger size. Recently these same jeans were on promo with an additional discount, so I decided to try them again in size 26. This time I liked them much better. By sizing up, the leg transformed from super skinny into skinny-straight, which was more slimming visually. The pockets were very shallow (more like half pockets), so they weren't too bulky and it was hard to see their outlines. The waist felt fine (maybe a hair loose), and the length was reasonable at 28". My one complaint is that although the denim felt quite thick (90% cotton, 8% polyester, 2% spandex), it still somehow showed the color of my underwear. Also, they're a little expensive at full price ($115), but they're a good value if you can pick them up for under $60.

Verdict: Like. Still a little sheer though. Size up.

LOFT currently has a wide selection of white jeans, but sizes sell out pretty quickly during the season so if you're interested, be sure to buy sooner rather than later during one of their frequent 40% off sales. I had high hopes for this skinny jean, because the fabric is my ideal blend of 98% cotton and 2% stretch. I was a little worried about the fit though since LOFT jeans traditionally don't fit me well, especially in the waist. Like most LOFT jeans, the waist on this pair was a little big, but the overall fit through the thigh was decent. As you can see in the pictures above, the leg was quite skinny, so you can make out the outline of my knees. Also the pictures don't capture how the fabric didn't move well with my body. Wrinkles appeared along the seams whenever I moved. Furthermore the pocket outlines were pretty visible. However, the saving grace is that this is the most opaque pair of white jeans I have seen in a while. Of course, if you really looked very closely, you could still see my underwear color, but it's about as close to opaque as you can get for white jeans.

Verdict: Like. Mostly true to size, but a little big in the waist.

Now that you've seen the pictures and read the reviews, I could really use your advice! Should I keep the J.Crew jeans, the LOFT jeans, or return both and keep looking? I got them for around the same price ($45). Neither pair is perfect, but they're both good enough. Please let me know in the comments!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

J.Crew Reviews: Laser-Cut Floral Shift Dress, Chevron Pleated Dress, Aquatic Floral Silk Dress, Punched-Out Eyelet Short, Linen Lace-Trim Short

Here's Part 2 of my J.Crew reviews from last weekend. Part 1 focused on tops. This time I'll be talking about dresses and shorts.

For fit reference, I am 5' 4" and weigh 110 lbs. My measurements are 32C-26-34. My usual J.Crew size is 00 and XXS for tops and dresses. I tend to wear 0 for shorts.

Misty Green 00

This dress reminds me of the scallop dress from two years ago but with perforations. The material is a similar plasticky/stiff fabric. There's a slip underneath in the same color that looks like it might be detachable. The overall length was longer than I'd like, coming down to almost the top of my knee. I would prefer if it was closer to a mini dress as shown on the model. To achieve that look, I would probably need a 0P. Also, the laser-cut pattern on the front is different from the pattern on the back. Personally I think the pattern on the back was prettier. As for the fit, I understand that the dress is supposed to have a shift silhouette, but I still wish it was more form-fitting, especially around the waist. On the bright side, I really liked the robin's egg blue of this dress. It also comes in three other colors.

Verdict: Meh. True to size but bulky in the waist.

Bright Citron 00

I've always wanted a yellow dress. Not neon yellow but something closer to goldenrod. This dress looks a bit neon in my photos, but in real life, it was more of a warmer yellow and not so fluorescent. There's a back zip, but it didn't zip down far enough for me to easily step into the dress. I had to wiggle it past my butt. Once on, I found the waist too tight. Perhaps I could size up, but the v-neck was already very deep and showed too much cleavage for my comfort. I did like that the dress was made of 100% cotton, and the chevron pattern was visually interesting. It was pretty slimming viewed from the side. All the seams lined up, which was nice. There was an issue with the back zipper not lying flat, but that could have been a one-off thing.

Verdict: Meh. A little small and the V is too deep.

Pewter Multi 00

I was pleasantly surprised by the price point of this dress. It's 100% silk with a polyester lining for $158. It would have been nice if the lining was also silk, but for the price, I can't complain too much. The silk was medium weight with a nice drape. As I mentioned in my last post, I love the aquatic floral print. This was no exception. I liked how swingy the skirt was. The zip was easy to get in and out of. The shoulders were a little weird. Rather than being completely sleeveless, the straps sort of sat on the shoulders. Also I wish the pattern had been better lined up, especially on the flounce. Or just get rid of the flounce entirely. Nitpicking aside, I think this would be a beautiful dress to wear to an upcoming garden wedding. We'll see if it goes on sale in time.

Verdict: Like and wishlisted. 

Classic Ivory 00

I was interested in the punched-out eyelet skirt, but that's already sold out in most sizes. I had to settle for trying on these shorts instead. My first impression was that they felt very thick. Essentially there's a cotton punched-out layer followed by a poly under layer, so they really are twice as thick. They didn't have my usual size 0, so I just grabbed it in a 00. It fit exactly with no room to spare, so in the future I should get the 0. These shorts were high-rise, coming up almost to my belly button. There's a little bit of piping that looks almost like pleats. There were also slant pockets, which I liked. Overall, it's a fresh take on polka dots.

Verdict: Like. True to size.

Bright Yellow 0

I don't know what to think about these shorts. The shape and pleats look formal, but the fabric and embroidery say casual. They also felt very thick when I picked them up, which makes sense since they're double layered. The nice thing about the cotton under layer is that it gives the top linen layer some structure. Also, this way the linen doesn't cling to your body. The leg holes were very large and roomy. The waist was also large. I would recommending sizing down. The tonal nature of the embroidery makes it very difficult to see the details. I think it would have been more interesting to use a contrasting color. Anyway, this doesn't make my wishlist.

Verdict: Meh. Runs large.

Are any of these new arrivals on your wishlist?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

J.Crew Reviews: Photo Floral Tee, Photo Floral Tank Top, Sleeveless Silk Shell in Aquatic Floral, Shadow Stripe Top, Jet-Set Geo Shell

My fiancé was out of town this weekend, so I had time to myself on Saturday and decided to check out the latest J.Crew new arrivals. I usually like to do a reconnaissance/window-shopping trip so that I can prioritize my purchases for the upcoming season. Anyway, I saw a few things that I liked so I'll be on the lookout for those when sale time rolls around.

White Poppy XXS

This tee was originally on my wishlist, but I crossed it off after my try-on. I saw both color combos in store: white poppy (white background with pink flowers) and white (white background with beige-grey flowers). I preferred the pink floral design out of the two. I wasn't crazy about the fit though. The length was slightly too long, the flowers felt stiff to the touch, the almost-dolman sleeves were of an indeterminate length, and the white portion was sheer. At the end of the day, this didn't feel special enough to me. It seems like yet another run-of-the-mill floral tee that J.Crew has been pumping out.

Verdict: Blah. True to size. 

Heather Steel Blush XXS

I liked this tank better than the tee, but it also had its own issues. The floral design was nice. I liked how the flowers were scattered across the whole body instead of being focused only around the shoulder area. I wasn't crazy about the color combination (heather grey and pale pink). Perhaps it would look better if they used a darker grey or a more vibrant pink. The sleeves were confusing. They were somewhere between a mini cap sleeve and muscle tank. I felt that they made my shoulders look wider, which isn't very flattering. The fit was nice and slim though. Overall, not bad but could be better.

Verdict: Meh. True to size.

Pewter Multi 0

I'm loving the aquatic floral pattern from this past rollout. It has so many different colors in it, including black, turquoise, mint, citron, and white. This shell is very simple, but the pattern makes it special. It's made from 100% silk and has a hidden placket with buttons. The silk was a little staticky for some reason, but that didn't bother me too much. The store I went to didn't have my usual 00, so I had to grab the 0. Surprisingly it almost fit in the shoulders and bust, which leads me to think that this top runs small. My suggestion is to try on both your normal size and one size up, and see which you like better. Note that it hits at the hip, instead of tunic length like some of J.Crew's recent tops. The one thing about it that I didn't like was the weird split side hem. It was like a normal shirt-tail hem with an additional panel of fabric inserted down the side.

Verdict: Like. May need to size up.

Blossom 00

I like the idea of this top more than the execution. As you can see, the stripes in the front are vertical, but the stripes in the back are horizontal. I thought that was an interesting touch. You definitely need to wear a cami under it since the "stripes" are sheer. This top was made from 80% viscose and 20% polyester. It felt stiff like satin and has zero stretch. I took my normal size 00 and felt that it was boxy in the torso. However, I wouldn't recommend sizing down, because it felt tight across my shoulders. The hem was asymmetrical, being shorter in the front and longer in the back. In my opinion, both the front and the back were too long. This was a pass for me.

Verdict: Meh. Boxy but size down only if you have narrow shoulders. 

Glamorous Pink 00

The online product photo for this top made it look like it had a jeweled collar. That turns out to be just a necklace they added. Anyway, I found it somewhat misleading. So the fabric for this was 97% cotton/3% elastane and felt like something that would be used for a stretch cotton suiting shirt. There was an exposed zipper in the back to help you slip in and out of it. The hem was quite strange. It was like a cross between a shirt-tail hem and a tulip wrap skirt. Take a close look at the side view and you'll see what I mean. It fit well in the shoulders and chest but seemed a little boxy through the torso. The overall length was good. Overall the top wasn't bad, just not my style.

Verdict: Meh. True to size. A little boxy through the torso. 

What do you like from the latest J.Crew rollout? Are any of these items on your wishlist?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Simple Tips for Online Shopping

Sale Alert: These sateen jeans (available in plum, olive, and black) are on sale for over 50% off! See my review here. Also, how pretty is this gold necklace (on sale for $25)? Perfect for spring and summer.

A few months ago, Sarah from Sarah's Real Life wrote a post about her personal shopping tips. It was an interesting read (highly recommend!) and got me thinking about my own little tips and tricks from over the years. They're all very simple, but hopefully some of you will still find them useful. I mostly talked about online shopping, because that's what I usually do nowadays. Anyway, here are my tried-and-true recommendations.

0. Understand your percentages before you buy. Retailers frequently use numbers to mislead customers. One common tactic is to throw around confusing combinations of discounts. Another is to advertise only the percentage of the sale without referencing the base price. Here are some examples.
Scenario 1: A bag costs $100 full price at Store X. Last week Store X ran a sale of 20% off full price plus an additional 30% off. This week Store X ran a sale of 10% off full price plus an additional 40% off. Which sale would give you the better final price? Last week: $100 * 0.8 * 0.7 = $56 (44% off). This week: $100 * 0.9 * 0.6 = $54 (46% off).
Scenario 2: At Store X, the blazer you want is originally marked at $100. Yesterday the blazer was $20 off, and the store was running a 40% off sale. Today the blazer is back to full price, but the store is 50% off. Which is a better deal? Yesterday: $80 * 0.6 = $48 (52% off). Today: $100 * 0.5 = $50 (50% off).
Lesson learned: Crunch the numbers, and check the final price. 

1. Get sale alerts from your favorite retailers. Retailers frequently send out emails about sales and discounts, so make sure you're on their list. I suggest that you only sign up for your favorites, because otherwise it can get out-of-hand and clog up your personal inbox. Alternately you can do what I do, which is to have a dedicated spam account that I use to sign up for all of those shopping emails. That way you can check the account when you want to buy something, but you can also ignore it when you're shopped out or want to stick to your budget.
     More tips: Follow your favorite brands on social media and check in frequently. Sometimes they promote special discounts or events just for followers.

2. Use an RSS reader to follow bloggers who post about deals. For example, I follow The Chloe Conspiracy on Feedly, because she does a daily post about deals going on around the web. Of course J.Crew Aficionada is great for J.Crew-related sales. I occasionally post here or on Twitter about deals that I think are especially good. (If anyone's interested in me doing that more regularly, please let me know.)

3. Sign up for an online rebate site like Ebates. That's what I use for all of my purchases. To date, I've earned over $300 in cash back. All you have to do is sign into your account, find the store you're shopping at, click through their site before you check out, and your balance automatically gets credited. I installed a handy browser plug-in that enables me to just click on a header bar when I'm on a qualifying retailer's website. If you're interested in joining, please consider using my referral link. Also, when you sign up for the first time, you get a free $10 gift card. What's there not to love? Every little bit of saving helps.
     More tips: Try to synchronize your shopping with times when the Ebates cash back percentage is high, especially for large purchases.

4. Get a credit card with reward points. If you shop a lot at a few retailers, it might make sense to sign up for their credit card, depending on the terms and conditions of their rewards program. Personally I would only sign up if the benefits are great and I know I would use it all the time. Hence I only have the J.Crew card. Alternately, you can just get a general purpose credit card with reward points. Major caveats: 1) Never carry a balance, because the interest rates are killer, and 2) don't open too many, because it can ding your credit score.

5. Check a coupon collector site like Retail Me Not before you buy. Sometimes there are free shipping offers or under-advertised promotions that you can't see on the store site. Keep in mind that not all of the submitted codes will work, but when they do, it can pay off.

6. Take advantage of price adjustments. After you buy an item, keep watching it for the remainder of the price adjustment period (usually 7 days), in case it gets cheaper. If it does, don't be afraid to ask for a price adjustment! It can feel a little uncomfortable, but just remember that you're entitled to your money back.

7. Learn the sale cycle. Observe how long it takes things at each retailer to go from being in the new arrivals to being in the sale section, so you can predict when that piece you've been eyeing is going to be on sale. Also, most stores start their weekend sales on Thursdays or Fridays.

8. Always look for free in-store returns and/or free return shipping. Unlike shopping in store, online shopping can be very hit or miss. You never know if something is going to work out until you get it in the mail and try it on in person. Because it's so uncertain, you want to be able to return your purchase easily. Make sure you don't have to pay for return shipping, or if that's not an option, there's at least a store near you that you can take it back to.

So is there anything I missed? What are your tips for online shopping? Please share in the comments!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cats and Dogs

For as long as I can remember, I've always been a dog person. I don't know how it started, especially since I never had one growing up. Every year I would beg and beg my parents, but my dad always said that he was too allergic (I secretly think he just hates animals). On the other hand, I was deathly afraid of cats. All of my childhood experiences with them were traumatizing. I got scratched by one across the hand when I was 4, and my grandmother had this evil mean-tempered black cat that everyone hated except her. I finally started coming around to cats in the last five years after I met some extremely friendly kitties at other people's houses. Before that, I thought they were just a myth!

My fiancé Engineer W had a different experience growing up. He had a (prickly) tabby named Annie who lived to the ripe old age of 17 that he loved. He also comes from a long line of cat people. His grandparents always had 3-4 cats around the house when his mom was growing up, and all of their kids ended up being cat lovers too. Most of them (including his mom) still have one or two cats today, so clearly the trend is going strong.

Annie hunting her shadow
Anyway, we first started talking about adopting a pet a few months ago. Even though I love dogs, we quickly ruled out that idea when we considered how much time we would need to devote to walking it daily and the hassles some of our grad school friends have gone through in the course of housebreaking/training their puppies. After doing some more research, we thought, why not a cat? They're sociable yet independent, housebroken, and fine with being left alone for the day while we're at school. Sounded like the perfect match.

On Valentine's Day, we went to a local shelter to look at their kitties. It was supposed to be a simple meet and greet, so we weren't expecting to bring one home that day. Of course life throws you a curve ball when you least expect it. When we got there, we met over 30 cats, but two really stuck out in our minds. One was a male tabby that loved to snuggle up on laps but had a tendency to escape his enclosure. Because we live in an apartment complex, we ultimately decided that he wasn't a good match for us. The other was a particularly friendly tuxedo kitten that we later named Catniss. She was so small compared to the other cats in her room that we knew she had to be younger than a year (our initial age limit), but we just couldn't bear to leave her behind. So with our house largely unprepared, we adopted her and took her home. In retrospect, that was probably a bad idea. Instead of relaxing and getting to know her, we spent the rest of the weekend running around, getting cat supplies and scrambling to cat-proof the house.

I'm not going to lie; the first week with her was really rough. Not just for her, but also for the humans involved. In fact, the initial experience was so bad that we considered taking her back to the shelter. One issue was how she would mew piteously any time we left the room, even if it was only for a few minutes. Needless to say, it was hard to get any sleep all week. Another issue was how long her claws were. She has a habit of kneading with her claws out, so every single time she sat on me, I would get these long scratches across my legs. Plus they ended up getting infected (apparently cat-scratch disease is a thing, you guys), so now I have to take antibiotics to clear it up. She's gotten a lot better about kneading with her claws since, but she still cries a few times a night while we're trying to sleep.

Don't get me wrong though. She has a lot of great qualities too. For example, she's extremely sweet. She loves nothing better than sitting on a warm lap and being petted. And she's totally okay with having her paws touched. It was really easy to clip her nails within two days of getting her, and we did it again this weekend. She also had her first vet appointment recently, and that went better than expected. She only protested being in her carrier a little, and she was a complete angel at the vet, even when they had to take her temperature and express her anal glands. The vet complimented her on how calm she was. Overall, she's a great cat despite being naughty sometimes.

Catniss's favorite pastime
Even though we've only had her for a short period of time, we already know a lot about her. Her favorite things include playing with her mouse wand (highly recommend for anyone with a playful cat!), chewing on really thin wires (she already bit through the cord for a pair of ear buds), sleeping on a warm lap, being petted, and FOOOOD (dry, wet, pretty much anything except strawberries). Her dislikes include being sprayed with water when she jumps up on the kitchen counter and when we close our bedroom door to go to sleep.

Looking fierce after catching the "mouse"
Since we got her, she's done some pretty hilarious things that I wish I had filmed. For example, we have a trash can with a swing top lid that sits next to the kitchen counter. One day she wanted to jump on the counter, and she thought she could get there via the trash can. So she jumped up... and then promptly fell in, completely freaked out, and bounced around inside until the trash can toppled, finally releasing her. Luckily there were only a few dry things inside, so she wasn't hurt. Another funny thing was when I tried offering her a strawberry slice. First I googled around to make sure it wasn't toxic for cats, and then I placed it in front of her nose. She was interested and sniffed it a few times but thought it was a toy, so she started batting it around with her paw. To let her know it was food, I led her to her food bowl and put it inside. She finally understood and licked it. Then she looked up at me, pulled it out of her food bowl (bleh that's not food), and stalked off in disgust!

So I wanted to end with a toast to Catniss. You may be naughty at times, but you're sweet, snuggly, and hilarious. May we have many long years together!

Hanging out with me on the couch
Are you a cat person, dog person, both, or neither? Also, do you have any tips for training a cat to not wake you up at night? Please let me know in the comments section below. Thanks!