Month: December 2010

Santa’s helper

The alternate title for this post: Last minute budget stocking stuffer ideas for the fashion-lovers in your life. Hey, no one is judging. It happens to the best of us – we blink and it’s suddenly less than a week till Christmas and there are still a few discriminating people whose names have not been checked off our list yet. Here are some of my suggestions:

The easiest way to give the gift of fashion – a magazine subscription.  These can cost anywhere from less than $20/year for Canadian titles (I’m a fan of Elle Canada and LouLou) to about $40US for the big name “fashion bibles” (InStyle, Vogue, etc.). Keep in mind that your giftee will receive her first issue in 4-6 weeks; in the meantime, wrap a nice bow around the latest issue and roll it up in her stocking – easy peasy!

I know it may seem unlikely right now, but it will be sunny again in this town. Now is a great time to pick up designer sunglasses for a bargain. Winners has some big names on clearance: Marc by Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Kate Spade, Valentino, Gucci and more for around $16-30 (selection varies by store).

For perfume lovers, Shoppers Drugmart has a great deal on the new Harajuku Lovers “Wicked Style” perfume collection: only  $29.99 for 30 ml (full size). If your friend prefers the original fragrances, most Winners stores carry a variety of the “Snow Bunnies”, “Sunshine Cuties” and regular  versions ($19.99 for the mini versions), including some gift sets.

Sometimes only a label will do, and luckily there are options out there that won’t break the bank. Coach offers a nice selection of coin purses and wristlets ($40-55), and the deals are even better if you can hit up their outlet store just outside Calgary. Along the same lines, a little while ago, Holt Renfrew had some cute Kate Spade coin purses (around $50), but I am not sure if those are still available.

What better gift for a beauty junkie than Sephora‘s Color Play – 5 in 1 II – Fashion Edition colour palette ($150 value for $30US). It’s a versatile eye, lip, and cheek set with five interchangeable color stories. Each of the five sub-sets includes 10 eye-shadows, 2 lip colours and 1 blush – whew!!

My final suggestion, while not, strictly speaking, a “stylish” gift, is a classic – books. OK, so I may be a bit of a book nerd, but I’ve never not been excited to find a book with my name on it under the tree. Here are some of my fave suggestions by genre:

– historical fiction: for any Jane Austen lovers, in particular, Georgette Heyer is the way to go. Her Regency-era novels, written in the early part of the 20th century, are simply lovely – well written and researched (and not merely corny pastiches of Austen). Heyer also wrote some cracking good mysteries in the 

– science fiction/fantasy: Jasper Fforde is one of the funniest, most brilliant writers currently writing in the genre. You have plenty of options, from his Thursday Next series (whose female heroine is the definition of “kick-ass”), to the Nursery Crimes series, to his brand book (and series) “Shades of Grey” – he will not disappoint!

– non-fiction: while there are so many options (I’m a non-fiction junkie), two of my favourites are books about biographies about sisters. “Aristocrats” by Stella Tillyard is the collective biography of the four Lennox sisters, daughters of the Duke of Richmond, who made quite a splash in 18th century English society. It is a fascinating glimpse into the era, and the personalities of these interesting women. For something a little more modern, “Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family” by Mary Lovell details the fascinating lives of the five daughters of the Baron Redesdale (one was a Communist; one became the Duchess of Devonshire; one was a best-selling novelist; one became the most hated woman in England; and one became obsessed with Adolf Hitler).

 – fashion: for anyone who might be interested in a DIY style makeover, Isaac Mizrahi‘s “How to Have Style” is the way to go. It’s a breezy read, and it’s full of practical tips and ideas for discovering your own style.

Happy shopping!!

Recap of the festivities

Thanks to the largesse of my employer, my work Christmas party is always an event – and a very stylish one at that. To give you a sense of the scale (and style) of things, here is one of the centre-pieces at this year’s “Under the Sea” themed party (minus the 3 foot lighted stand):

Normally, I love the style challenge posed by this kind of event – after all, I love dressing up! But for some reason, this year, I simply wasn’t all that inspired. Maybe it was because I had already bought a (too expensive) dress this summer on the basis that I would wear it at the Christmas party; while it’s smart to plan ahead, when it comes to clothes, I find that planning too far ahead makes me less excited about what I have to wear once the long-awaited moment comes. A complicating factor this time around was the fact that, as December approached, I had to admit that married life was finally taking its toll – on my waistline. Granted, it may be an effect felt more by me than seen by others, but it didn’t exactly put me in the mood for a dress I bought back when home-cooked meals were not the daily events they are now.

Anyway, this is a long explanation as to why, the day before my Christmas party, I decided to make a last minute dash through the mall for a dress to save the day. My criteria seemed to make the task impossible: it had to be comfortable, it had to be cheap, and it had to be something I could find in less than half an hour. Oh yeah … and it had to be at least a little bit stylish. A perfect recipe for a disastrous shopping trip.

And then something almost miraculous happened. I found a dress that met all of my criteria! The last of my size on the Club Monaco sales rack, ringing in at a reasonable $72 (including tax), and made out of fabric that felt like (stretchy) T-shirt material. Given my past obsession with all things “greige”, the colour was a bonus too – a soft, mushroomy taupe-grey. A somewhat unusual colour choice for pale, pasty me, but it did inspire me to finally take some risks with my make-up … by wearing red lipstick – in public!

Here was my final look:

I’m especially proud of my statement accessory, which I manufactured out of two separate necklaces and a vintage brooch.

All in all, I felt pretty happy with my choice – which was great, because there was a fabulous party to enjoy. Congrats (and thanks) to J & A for another memorable night!!

Crowning glory

It’s true: I’m a klutz when it comes to hair. This is one of the main reasons why in the past I’ve spent a ton of money on good haircuts – they do most (or all, depending on how short you go) the work for you. This is the main reason I recently invested in a high end hair straightening tool – it’s indispensable to my new Cleopatra-esque cut. Any help I can get with my hair, I grab with both hands. Because I know I need all of it.

So it may strike you as ironic that I would be offering hairstyle tips … and, yet, that is what I’m proposing to do. Before you scoff, I will add that these are my tips for fellow dilettantes – easy ways to master some very (very!) basic styles. Hopefully, this will make the holiday season a little less hair-raising. [Har-har!]

First up, curls. For me, this is the most ambitious proposition because I always feel fatally hampered by the lack of a third hand and second pair of eyes (in the back of the head, naturally). So a curly (or wavy) ‘do is always a bit of a crap-shoot – it might turn out great, or I might end up looking like little Orphan Annie. There are ever so many kinds of tools to help straight-haired gals achieve those glossy curls we’ve always craved (grass is always greener, after all), and I’ve probably tried them all at some point. 
Foam curlers are easy, but they tend to be small and result in tighter curls than need additional work to get them to “relax” a bit. Regular curlers come in jumbo size (great for longer hair) but you have to pick the right styling products, otherwise you might end up with stiff looking curls. Hot rollers are great if your hair holds curl really well and isn’t too long; I haven’t had the best results personally, but lots of people swear by them. My problem with all curlers/rollers is placement – you have to be a whizz at knowing where to place each roller (based on your hair pattern) and how to alternate different sizes for a natural look.

For the most part, I tend to stick to two other methods – hot iron and hair-twists. The hot iron is familiar to everyone, so I probably don’t need to go into endless detail. I would say that I have better luck with a smaller barrel (1 inch or so) for hair that’s shoulder to shoulder-blade level. Work on curling small sections of hair individually (no more than 1 inch wide); although this takes longer, the results will hold up better. After you’ve finished, flip your head and give the curls a good shake, then set with hairspray. I find this gives a more natural look than perfectly set curls. 

Another option for curls is the twist. You have to start with hair that’s about 50% dry. Divide it into about 5 sections (more if you have very thick hair) – 3 at the crown (two on the sides, one in the back), and 2 underneath. Twist each section in a clockwise direction, then wrap each twist into a small bun-like shape and pin with bobby pins. It can take at least 3-4 hours for the hair to dry (I usually sleep with it like that), but the results are a soft, wavy ‘do. Again, once you un-pin the hair, I would recommend flipping the head and shaking out the twists so that you get a more natural look. Add hairspray or mousse (or pomade, if your hair is shorter than shoulder-length) to finish.

Of course, if you don’t have pin-straight hair to begin with, you can attempt a similar look with the judicious use of product alone … and a lot of scrunching. Start from the moment you come out of the shower; after patting your hair with a towel (never rub, it creates static and fly-aways), scrunch the hair with a little bit of light mousse. Leave it to air dry till it’s about 80-90% dry. Then use a thicker pomade/paste to scrunch again. The product I love to use is actually something I “borrowed” from my husband – an American Crew product called “Forming Paste”. [I’m pretty sure that was the name; we’ve run out, so I can’t verify.] It’s intended for shorter hair, but I find it’s just the right consistency for my hair – it helps hold the wave, without weighing down my hair or making it sticky, although I wouldn’t recommend using too much of it.  Also, once my hair gets past shoulder-length, I find that I need to switch to a different product. Your hair stylist will also probably have suggestions for you if you want to find something that works for your hair type.
Next up, the messy up-do. I find this works best for hair that is at least a few inches past the jawline but not much longer than shoulder-length, and not super thick; since it’s relying extensively on the use of bobby pins, masses of hair can be tricky. It’s also better not to work with just-washed hair; the cleaner the hair, the more “slippery” it will be. Personally, I don’t wash my hair every day, so day-old hair is perfect for this  look. If you do wash your hair daily, this can still work; just wash your hair in the morning if you want to create the look for evening, or vice versa. 
The technique is similar to the hair twists I use for curly ‘dos. I start with sections of hair right above the ear; pull them back while twisting at the same time (one at a time is easier). Pin securely to the back of the head. Aim for “pretzel” or flat “cinnamon roll” shapes. My method is best described as haphazard, so there really isn’t any particular technique to it. It looks something like this:

Continue the same process with the remaining hair. Use lots and lots of bobby pins, but don’t worry too much about making it look perfect. When you’re done, it should look something like this – though each time you do it, it will end up looking different.

Next up, the ballerina bun. There are two versions of this: polished or messy. For the polished bun, start with a ponytail.  You probably need your hair to be long enough that, once up in a ponytail, there are still at least about 3 inches of hair to play with. The placement is up to you; I prefer a bun that’s just a little bit higher than the occipital bone.

Next, take a small section of hair and pin it back and under.

Continue all the way round, making sure there are no “gaps”. The key is to create the appearance of fullness, even if there is a lot of air underneath. [I know you can buy foam pieces designed to make this process easier, but I have no idea where you might be able to find them in this town. Which, as a total aside, also goes for boob tape. Where does a glam diva get her tools of the trade around here?] 

You can finish off with an accessory, if you’re feeling whimsical.

For a messy version of the ballerina bun, take your ponytail and twist it around into a bun. For a modern look,  place the bun a little closer to the nape of the neck and slightly to the side. Secure with a million bobby pins. If pieces are falling out, so much the better. This look can probably work with any length of hair from a bob on down.

My final easy ‘do is the fancy ponytail. Before you pull the hair back, take the back section of hair right at the crown and tease it. You want a little bit of volume, but not a Snooki-worthy bump. Smooth out the hair on top, then proceed with the ponytail (don’t make it too high). This is a laid-back, cool look with a little bit of a retro vibe. 

Pretty simple, eh?