Shopping: Can We Talk About Quality?

A couple of weeks ago, I was getting ready to go to an interview with a recruiter. Since I work in a creative field (I’m a digital copywriter), I wasn’t in a business suit, but instead in wearing some pretty classic J.Crew. You know. A pencil skirt. Not-quite-a-statement necklace. And a silk Blythe blouse (they don’t make it anymore, but here’s a similar option if you’re interested. After this post, you might not be).

This looks great, I thought. Until I looked down a my sleeve and saw a giant rip in the silk.

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It was about two inches or so long. Shit, I thought. Should I wear a blazer? The blazers I own look really frumpy with a pencil skirt, that was a no. Can I just chance it and hope she doesn’t notice? No, too risky. Should I change my shirt and go with this option?

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Maybe, but it was a cold day and I had a Heattech top underneath, which even with its scoop neck was still visible thanks to the deep V of the blouse. OK, I guess I’ll just go with a cardigan, which is fine, looks nice and all, but isn’t quite what I wanted.

The rip in the sleeve was annoying, but I got even more annoyed when I got home, took the blouse off and looked at other areas of it. In parts of the shoulder, the silk was pretty much completely worn away and you could see through the silk and there were other areas, like on the back, where the silk was starting to fray. I know I’ve complained about J.Crew’s silk before, but this felt beyond the pale. Should a shirt completely fall apart and wear out after a few years of not very frequent wear?

I can’t remember when I got the blouse, but it was either 2012 or 2013, so I’ve had it for either less than four years or less than three. Is a lifespan of more than three years too much to ask? I don’t think so, because I’ve had blouses and dresses from Target and New York & Company last for much longer even though they cost so much less.

That got me thinking about quality. I know “you get what you pay for” and all that, but how much is too much to expect from our clothing? Is it too much to think that a shirt that has a sticker price of upwards of a $100 won’t just randomly tear on some random day for seemingly no reason? Or can we only reasonably expect longevity from the  most expensive clothing?

Also, it made me wonder why there’s this move away from making garments that last. As I mentioned, I’ve had relatively inexpensive pieces of clothing last me for years and years, but I bought them at least a decade ago. And, yet, I feel as if everything I’ve purchased from J.Crew in the past 2 or 3 years has just not been up to snuff and has either worn out quickly or required a lot of effort to keep it looking good. It’s not as though the rip  is on a stress point, like the shoulders. It’s not really even on the seam, it’s about 1/16 inch to the side of it.

So why is it that retailers think it’s OK to sell us stuff that’s just no good these days? I know there’s fast fashion, but I’m an adult. I’m looking for stuff I can hang on to for years, so that I can look back in amazement on a blouse in 10 years and think, hey, I got this a decade ago. It’s still going strong. (As a funny side note – I was just in J.Crew and they had signs all over the store stating that they believe in “forever fashion, not fast fashion.” OK, prove it by making stuff that doesn’t completely break down.)

Clearly, making stuff that falls apart does make people more likely to buy  more, but that model doesn’t seem to be working either, looking at the constant markdown games stores need to play these days. Isn’t it better for a retailer to earn my confidence and trust instead of selling me stuff that I’ll need to replace very two years, if I’m lucky?

 

Winter Capsule Wardrobe: Month 2 Check-In

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Winter, at least according to my capsule wardrobe calender, is almost over, although the blizzard we got here in Philly this weekend might seem to suggest otherwise. Since my winter season runs from December through February, I’ve just over a month to go before thinking about and switching over to spring. Perfect timing for a quick round up of some of my favorite outfits from this season.

Christmas Eve Capsule Outfit
Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve Outfit

I know it’s traditional to break out either the red or green or the sparkles on Christmas Eve, but I went in a different direction and channeled my inner 1970s librarian, with the Miyani dress from Theory in navy worn over a tie front William Morris print blouse from Marc by Marc Jacobs.  At first, I worried that the outfit was a little too much — did I look like I was trying to dress like a character from Mad Men? But, then, I was like, whatever. My family has seen me in weirder. Also, I really, really like this look. So, thumbs up and all that.

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Phoning it in with this outfit

Casual Outfit

When it gets really cold, my brain so of locks up when it comes to figuring out what to wear. My default is jeans (which aren’t necessarily warmer than tights, but feel easier when it’s super cold) and a shirt. Here it’s a silk, zebra print blouse from J.Crew and Madewell’s Flea Market Flares. It’s not exactly the best or most inventive look and I will admit that I very much phoned this one in. Not every capsule outfit is a winner.

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Weekend lunch

Weekend Lunch

OK, this outfit is made up of three of my favorite pieces, so really, what can be wrong about it? Nothing. I’m wearing a printed button up from J.Crew Factory which somehow fits perfectly, even though cotton button shirts never fit me, my favorite skirt, a navy pleated number from J.Crew, and a sparkly necklace from J.Crew. The tights are from Boden and they fit well, but aren’t super exciting and the boots are from Garnet Hill. They fit well and are very comfortable.

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Work outfit 1

Work Outfit 1

I work from home, which often leads people to ask if I work in my PJs or in “casual clothes.” I usually smile politely and say no, but that question irks me, since the above is a typical example of what I wear on a work day. It’s a J.Crew Pencil Skirt in  dark green tweed wool (first tried on here) and silk V-neck blouse navy, some tights, and a necklace from the no-longer-with-us Piperlime. I don’t really get the idea that because no one sees you at work, you should just phone it in when it comes to your clothes. So I actually wear clothes when working. Plus, I’m weirdo who likes the business look (here’s a story: when I was a kid and thought about what I’d wear as an adult, I pictured myself in a fuchsia pencil skirt suit.)

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Work Outfit 2

Work Outfit 2

Here’s another work day outfit. You’ve seen these pieces before – it’s the Marc by Marc Jacobs Strawberry Thief blouse (which seems to be sold out, but here’s a similar option, minus the tie) and my favorite pleated skirt.

Work Outfit 3
Work Outfit 3

Work Outfit 3

Last capsule outfit for you and it’s another work one. I’m wearing the Theory Miyani dress again and the Graham Cardigan from my MM LaFleur Bento Box. The necklace is actually a tiny pocket knife from Erica Weiner Jewelry. I love the Graham because it’s pretty flexible – you can tie it in front, as I’ve done here, or leave it open for a looser look.

Goals for 2016

It’s January 20, well past the time of making new year’s resolutions. Actually, it’s pretty much right around the time when people realize that they haven’t kept theirs or that they just can’t face drinking another glass of weird juice or dealing with the hassle of going to the gym and that maybe it’s time to table the resolution or try again next year. I’m not much one for making resolutions, which is why just getting around to writing about my goals for the year near the end of January.  Here are a few of the big ones I plan on tackling this year.

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Shop Less

Honey, you’ve got a blog that’s got shopping in its name, I can hear you thinking. How are you going to shop less? Well, as it turns out, I’ve kinda let the shopping get out of control in recent years. Not “I’ve got credit card debt now” levels of out of control, but out of control in terms of buying stuff I didn’t really like or that didn’t really fit, in large part because it was 40% off of at (fill in name of store here).

Shopping less is so far proving not to be that big of an deal, but it is January, which kinda doldrum season for the stores, so we’ll have to wait and see how things go in February and March. Having a capsule wardrobe definitely helps keep the urge to shop at bay, as I keep telling myself that I have all that I need.

When it comes to actually planning out future wardrobe needs, I’m giving myself limits. My style hasn’t really changed over the years, but I have been able to refine what I like more and what I want from clothing, and that has helped me to reduce the urge to buy items “just because.”

Doing a major closet and house purge last year also helped me see that I never use what I buy, quickly tire of it, or just don’t like it that much. For example, although I used to think that I liked cotton button front shirts, I’ve realized that I hate the time it takes to iron them and that it’s difficult for me to get one that fits right off-the-rack.

I’ve also become more focused on quality, which means I’d rather spend more on a better constructed garment than less on one that literally falls apart. Focusing on other financial goals, such as paying off my student loans (more on that below) and saving up to travel to Paris for a month will also help me not shop so much. One of my goals last year was to unsubscribe from all of the sales emails I got on a daily (or sometimes even multiple times a day) basis. I did that bit by bit over the year, and it not only did it mean fewer emails for me to open or just delete each day, it also meant fewer siren songs of “40% off! One day only!” Out of sight, out of mind really does hold true when it comes to sales.

 

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Read About the Same

Last year, I set a goal to read 50 books. I read 45. But, I’m not disappointed in myself, because some of those books were big or dense and took a while to really read. I’ll still track what I read this year, but I’m not going to focus so much on a number. Instead, I’d like to focus on “quality over quantity” (as my dad used to say when looking over my remedial handwriting assignments. Yeah, I needed extra practice learning cursive. Talk about wasted effort). Pictured above are a few of the books I’d like to read or re-read this year. Some of them are pretty big or just dense, so I just won’t be able breeze through them. As with last year, I’m  hoping to use the library or re-read titles I already own, instead of buying new ones.

Here are some of the titles I hope to read (or re-read) in 2016:

Pay More Towards My Student Loans

This is a blog about shopping (and sewing). But, I still thought it worth mentioning that one of my goals for the year is to really focus on paying down my student loans.  I’ll keep it short, because you probably don’t want to hear about money nonsense.

I’m 33. I finished undergrad almost 11 years ago and got my masters 8 years ago. I put my big grad school loan on an income based repayment plan a few years ago, and while that was helpful in lean times, it is pretty much the same thing as throwing that money into a black hole, since the amount I pay monthly on the plan doesn’t chip away at the principal.

Ugh. Maybe I regret that decision, but there’s no time for that — I’m in the situation I’m in and I’d like to fix it. I’ve read lots of people’s stories of paying off their loans in 1, 2, or 3 years. I won’t be going for anything that dramatic. My goal is to pay off the tiny bit that’s left on the undergrad loan by the end of March and to focus on paying off my grad school loan (which is much bigger) within four or five years.

Books: What I Read in December

Sad news: I didn’t achieve my goal of reading 50 books in 2015. I got to 45, which isn’t bad, but isn’t quite the mark I was going for. After not really getting through many books in November, thanks to play reading season, I picked things up again in December and read six. Having two five hour flights to Iceland, plus about five hours on the train from Philly to JFK airport each way kind of helped with that. Without further ado, here’s  what I read in the last month of 2015.

Shopaholic Takes Manhattan and Shopaholic Ties the Knot

I’d admit it. There’s no shame. I enjoy the “Shopaholic” series. On my way to and from Iceland, I tore through both Shopaholic Takes Manhattan and Shopaholic Ties the Knot. In case you’re not familiar with the series, it follows the adventures of Rebecca Bloomwood, a Londoner with a shopping problem. In the first book in the series, Becky’s a personal finance writer who’s deep in debt thanks to her impulsive purchases. By book two, she’s got a spot on a TV show and is invited to head to Manhattan with her boyfriend, who runs his own PR firm. By book three, her boyfriend, Luke has proposed to her, and she faces the conundrum of having a big blow out wedding at the Plaza hotel in  NYC or a quiet home wedding back at her parents’ house in England. Thing is, she doesn’t make the decision in time and both weddings end up being planned.

That might not sound that interesting, but it’s all pretty hilarious. Becky gets into what you can only describe as “scrapes” because she doesn’t say “no” or make the right decisions when she should. Her situations are pretty ridiculous, and sure, the series isn’t very realistic, but that’s not really the point. Maybe I’m weird, but I see the whole thing as comedic gold. It’s wild and over-the-top and pretty great airplane and train reading.

Wonder by RJ Palacio

I read Wonder for one of my book clubs. It’s the story of a 10-year-old boy, Auggie, who has a severe facial deformity. At the start of the book, his parents have decided to enroll him in school for the first time and he’s quite nervous about it. The book takes place over the course of Auggie’s first year at school, showing how he adjusts and how his classmates adjust to him.

Wonder’s target audience is younger readers, but I was surprised by the sophistication and depth of the characters throughout the book. Although the first part of the story is from Auggie’s perspective, narration changes throughout the book, and we get to hear the story from a variety of characters, from Auggie’s older sister Olivia to some of the friends he makes at school. Even smaller characters, such as Via’s new boyfriend and her once-best friend, get a section.

Admittedly, the message of the book is a little heavy  handed (be kind to others), and there were points when I was like, OK, I get it. But, it was still a good read and if it helps kids and teens understand why they shouldn’t bully kids who are different from them, then all the better.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

I know some people are way into Nick Hornby. I’m not really one of them, but I did love High Fidelity and About a Boy (the book versions, though the  movies were good too). Funny Girl has a different feel from either of those two novels. For one, it’s a historical work, set mainly in the 1960s. For another, it’s not really a first person point-of-view. There’s a weird distance between the narrator of the story and the characters, which feels strange. At first I thought it was because so many of Hornby’s leads are male and here he is writing about a woman, but no. Because although you might think based on the title that the focus of the book would be on that woman, Sophie Straw, a comedienne from Blackpool who ends up getting her own TV show pretty much right after moving to London, well you’d be wrong.

Sure, Sophie figures prominently in the book. A lot of it is about her. It’s a lot of telling though, not really showing. OK, so she’s pretty and has a big chest, but how is she funny? The book also focuses a lot on the writers who create the show she ends up starring in. I felt that their story (being two gay men in a time when being gay was illegal) overshadowed hers quite a bit. Let’s not even get into the guys Sophie ends up with, including her failing leading man co-star Clive and the sort of drippy but all around OK guy producer she ends up marrying. It felt as though in trying to highlight each character’s challenges and struggles Hornby ended up shortchanging each of them.

All this is to say that if you love Hornby’s other books, Funny Girl might be a bit of a change. I’m not sure if it’s a bad change or not, or if the book is weaker than it could have been. It just felt that way.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Here are a few things I though while reading Gold Fame Citrus: This feels like Margaret Atwood.  And wow, I want to write like this.

The book is set in the near future, after California and the west have given way to drought and a “dune sea” replaces much of the land as we know it today. Luv, a former child model and piece of living propaganda, lives in the desert with her boyfriend, Ray. They’ve shacked up in the abandoned home of a starlet, making use of her discarded evening wear and Hermes scarves. At one point, they find a toddler at a rave and that’s where things get weird.

The couple decide to travel east, abandoning the drought ravaged West. Things go wrong, they get separated and Luz and baby end up at the camp of a cultish group, led by a strange dowser, with whom Luz begins an affair.

Gold Fame Citrus (the title refers to the three things that led people to seek their fortunes out west  originally) is a great piece of dystopian fiction. Watkin’s created a weird, gripping and believable world. Sure, parts of it feel overwritten and I’m not quite able to visualize what a dune sea is (may be it sort of looks like an expanse of sand that shifts from time to time, swallowing up things without a care?), but it was book that I pretty much couldn’t put down from start to finish.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Speaking of Margaret Atwood, I spent the last week of December reading The Robber Bride. It’s described as a reversal of the Grimm tale of the Robber Bridegroom. A woman, Zenia, seduces, discards and for the most part destroys the partners/husbands of three college friends over the course of several decades. The novel looks at the three women’s pasts, the role Zenia played in their lives, and how she got to their men.

Who is Zenia? The answer varies based on which of the characters you ask. She’s a former prisoner of war, a former prostitute, or a cancer survivor. She fakes her death at least once. That she uses and discards men isn’t up for question, but whether that makes her a malevolent figure or not might be. In her mind, she was doing Charis, Tony and Karen a favor, but they don’t see it as such.

One of things I love about Atwood’s work is that going into a story you’re never sure if you’re getting something speculative or something more realistic. Sure, the story of Zenia is a bit out there, and there are some other worldly elements, thanks to Charis, who’s all into auras and such. But, feels psychologically realistic. The characters live in Toronto, much of the action takes places in the 1990s at a restaurant, much of their pain is believable and real. The premise might come from a fairy tale but it’s fully plausible.

What Else Did I Read in 2015?

Here’s everything I read last year:

Shopping: J.Crew Winter Sale

After the holidays is typically the best time to get the clothing you’ve had your eye on all fall, on sale. Case in point: J.Crew is currently offering 40% off winter sale styles (through Jan. 6). OK, so that’s not really news, because they seem to do that pretty much every week. But at least this stuff isn’t on final sale.

While I was putting together my winter capsule wardrobe, I realized that a few solid, silk blouses would really round out the collection. Since I really liked the silk drapey V-neck blouse in navy, I decided to get another version of it, this time in bright blue.

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It’s currently on sale for $69.99, minus 40%, although, many of the colors are sold out in many sizes, including the bright blue. The navy is still available in plenty of sizes, though.

I’ve got to say, J.Crew doesn’t have the best quality silk. I mean, it’s not that expensive, so I really shouldn’t expect much. It’s thinner and slightly rougher than the options you’d get from Equipment or even Everlane.

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It also wrinkles fairly easily. I’m sure this blouse came from a store, as it was folded and crammed into a tiny little plastic bag and insanely wrinkled when I unpacked it.

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The sleeveless silk tuxedo bib blouse fared  better in transit, in that it didn’t get to my house a wrinkled mess. It’s currently marked down to $59.99 minus the 40%, and it doesn’t seem to be selling that quickly, at least in the navy/black version. There’s also an ivory that’s nearly gone as I write this and a coral version that’s hanging around.

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What drew me to the top was the bib placket detail on the front. It’s a subtle touch that makes the shirt a bit more exciting than your basic silk sleeveless.

I took a size 4 in both of these shirts, which just seems to be the size I am in J.Crew tops these days. Fit was fine in the shoulders and in the body of both blouses. Sleeves were a touch short in the drapey blouse in the regular size, but I usually roll up my  sleeves, anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal.