Month: March 2011

The swap

Every year for the past 3 years I have hosted a clothes swap. Although the guest list has varied from year to year, it’s usually a friendly affair that involves some wine, some gossip, and a half dozen piles of clothes, shoes and other accessories. The atmosphere generally devolves to a hilarious free-for-all after the second or third glass of wine, when clothes start flying and Great Aunt Edna’s pink harem pants make an appearance. Still, the odd “shock” garment aside, clothes swaps are a great place to pick up cool new (to you) pieces for the unbeatable price of “free”. I still have fond memories of the swap where I picked up my favourite pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans; meanwhile, the Juicy Couture tank top I snagged at last year’s party was my go-to weekend wear piece practically the whole of last summer. And I’m always happy to see some of my former clothes being given new life by a friend. That makes it easier to part with things I love but no longer wear (or never wore in the first place) – and I don’t think that I’m the only one who gets sentimentally attached to clothes.

I am hosting this year’s swap on Saturday, and in anticipation I have been doing a final, serious purge of my closet. This is always a tough process, that requires me to lay aside sentimentality and focus on the pragmatic. Over the course of the year, I try to peg items I haven’t worn much or at all; if, by the time the swap has come around again, the status hasn’t changed, those things go into the swap pile no matter how hard it might be to let them go. Difficult as the process can be, I always feel good at the end of it – and my closet starts to resemble itself again, and not the aftermath of a bazaar explosion. [What can I say, I’m a clothes hoarder.]

This time, I thought it would be fun to illustrate the process from beginning to end, for those of you who might never had tried it. Today, I’ll start by making a quick inventory of the things I’m setting aside for the swap. Next week, I’ll be doing a round-up of the new pieces I get, and maybe even persuading some of my guests to model their new acquisitions.

Here are my swap contributions:
– 2 clutch bags (Urban)
– wrap sweater (Tristan)

– chunky knit turtleneck (Seduction)
– cashmere blend sweater (Old Navy)
– boucle wool skirt (Smart Set)
– jeans (Seven)
– summer dress (Vero Moda)
– 4 cardigans (Jacob, H&M, Alfred Sung)
– print blazer (Kenzie Girl)
– leopard print pencil skirt (Liz Clairborne)
– high waist skirt (Kenzie)
– leopard print wrap (Majestic)
– tank dress (Winners)
– knit tank (Express)
– silk camisole (Old Navy)
– wrap top (H&M)
– dress pants (Tahari)
– peep-toe shoes (Tahari)
– 2 pairs of ballerina flats (Joe Fresh)
– various jewelry
– BCBG perfume

Now, any swap newbies out there should not be intimidated by the volume (pssst, I shop a lot – don’t tell, will ya?) because it’s not a requirement for a successful swap. Different people will bring different kinds (and numbers) of things, and the beauty of the swap lies in that variety. As long as everyone goes home with at least one loved piece, it’ll be a good night.

If you’re interested in hosting your own swap and want some ideas, feel free to drop me a line.

Old haunts, new threads

I was inspired by a recent story in the Edmonton Journal about the contest being put on by Goodwill in conjunction with the upcoming spring Western Canada Fashion Week. It’s a challenge open to stylists, who have to put together an original outfit styled entirely from pieces donated to Goodwill. For the stylists, it’s a good learning experience and a chance to show off their chops; it’s also a win for Goodwill, who can show the public the stylish side of thrifting. Or “up-cycling” as it’s now known – a term that no doubt tickles the fancy of a whole new generation of environmentally conscious consumers too young to remember when thrift stores were the place to pick up flannel lumberjack shirts and the other requisite pieces of a proper grunge wardrobe. Ah, the ’90s! Good times.

Anyway, this article made me feel a little nostalgic. It had been years since I’d stepped foot in a thrift store, and I couldn’t honestly say that I missed the days of perusing endless racks of cotton and polyester garments in alternating pastels and violent ’80s colours. But on the online bargain-hunters’ forums I now frequent (hi, Purse Forum!), stories of amazing finds at Salvation Army and Goodwill stores across North America had piqued my interest; the Journal story galvanized me into action. Sure, I had abandoned thrift stores more than a decade ago and never looked back, but who knew what gems might be hiding amidst those long-ignored racks? So a couple of weekends ago, I decided check out a couple of local thrift stores. 

First up, the Value Village store on 82 Ave. I’m not going to lie – the same racks were still there, looking not all that different from what I remembered. Unless you are very patient, and not easily discouraged, they will appear somewhat disheartening. But perseverance did pay off. My first find was a purple Rachel Pally wrap top, in pristine condition. Made out of the modal, one of the most comfortable materials known to man, it originally would have rung up considerably more than its $5.65 price tag.
With renewed vigour, I continued my search. While I did come across a few other brand names  sprinkled here and there (including Banana Republic, J Crew, and Ann Taylor Loft), I didn’t hit gold again until the dress rack. Hiding inconspicuously among some not-so-pretty polyester affairs, was a lovely navy Tocca dress – for $10.49!! The best part about this dress was its bump-accommodating capacity. Witness:

Sure, you’re probably telling yourself “I don’t see what the big deal is.” Take another look:

With finds like these, who needs maternity wear? For now, not this mamma.
[A quick word on care. Most designer pieces will have “dry clean” only labels, which can become an expensive proposition quickly. I have found that for cotton-, synthetic- and some silk-blends, a gentle hand-wash is usually not a problem. Lay them out flat to dry, and pat them down with a low-heat iron if necessary. For pure silk, wool and wool-blends, it’s best to follow the original care instructions.]

Motivated by my successes, I decided to check out a few other thrift stores around town. A whirlwind tour (2 Goodwills and 2 Value Villages) later, I came away empty-handed but not without a few near misses and regrets. I can report that while, overall, Value Village generally has the better selection, it was the west-end Goodwill that boasted a gorgeous pair of (almost new) patent Marc by Marc Jacobs Mary Jane shoes for $6.99 (in size 36, alas!). The same Goodwill had a lovely silk Teenflo camisole (with Winners price tag still attached) for $3.99, which I almost bought. Meanwhile, at the Value Village on 34th Ave, I found a gorgeous wine colour wool pencil skirt from Talbots for $9.99 that would have surely ended up in my closet were it not for the fact that it would be no use to me for at least another year. 
Still, while the selection really does vary by store (the Goodwill on 51st Ave was the most sparse, in my opinion), I wouldn’t recommend taking on more than one store at a time. Even for an old Winners pro like me, it was an exhausting experience sorting through rack after rack of clothing, much of it of little interest. But if you’re looking for a rare bargain, there are fewer places where the bargains that are to be found are quite so spectacular.

Two redheads at a make-up counter

It all started with a dream. It was one of those dreams with a convoluted, highly improbable plot, which in this case  featured an entirely random interlude during which I went lipstick shopping with Julianne Moore. While I could not remember the rest of my dream, my one thought upon waking up was to find the lipstick I had tried on – a peachy-nude semi-glossy shade which made my (dream) pucker irresistible. I just had to have it … though this proved to be slightly more complicated than I’d thought.
In my dream, the lipstick was Chanel. I think. My dream memory is tragically unreliable. Of course, there is no guarantee that Chanel makes anything remotely resembling my dream lipstick – it could have just been my subconscious throwing out random names. Rather than start at the department store (where make-up prices tend to discourage frivolous experimentation and the sales personnel tends to hover whenever you approach the testers), I decided to look first to the drugstore brands I know and love. 
What I wanted, exactly, is rather difficult to describe. I was looking for the consistency of a matte lipstick crossed with a hint of the glassy finish of a lip gloss. Colour-wise, it had to be a precise mix of peach (but not too orange) crossed with a hint of caramel (but not too brown). Not “coral” and not “nude”, but a little bit of both. Ugh – I get exhausted just trying to explain it … which is why I didn’t bother trying to get help from anyone at the Shoppers make-up counter. I can just imagine the conversation. “Hi ma’am, can I help you find something today?” “Well … I’m looking for this lipstick I saw in a dream.” “Um, right … maybe take a look right over … there.” [backing away slowly]
I started my hunt with lipsticks, as I was after something closer in feel to a lipstick than a lip gloss. My first attempt focused on the “nude” end of the colour spectrum, rather than coral, because I was afraid of an orange overdose. One of drawbacks of drugstore make-up is the difficulty in testing the product colours. Sure, every place offers testers, but I wouldn’t want to use those anywhere near my face, even indirectly (using a cotton swab, etc.). I’ve read somewhere that the trick to testing lipsticks is to test using on skin on the inner part of the wrist, but I always go with the old back-of-your-hand routine because it offers more, um, scope … often with unpredictable results. As was the case here.
In store, the best of the “nude” lipsticks bunch seemed to be a L’Oreal Colour Riche in “Nature’s Blush”, which seem to have a bit of shine to it. At home, success remained elusive. On my lips, the colour looked rather dark, and not nearly peachy enough.

But I was not deterred; in fact, I was more determined than ever to succeed. Back I went to the Shoppers. This time, I was resolved to go for peach or bust. But, just to be on the safe side, I diversified my approach, and ended up getting a lipstick (Rimmel Moisture Renew Lipstick in “Coral Chic”) and a lip gloss (L’Oreal Gram Shine in “Amber Carat”). The lipstick turned out to be a little too orange and a little too dry for my taste. The lip gloss actually came fairly close in colour to my dream vision, but it also lacked the intensity of pigment and opacity that I wanted. 

Coral Chic

Amber Carat
Getting creative, I tried the lip gloss layered over each of the two lipsticks. Neither result was entirely pleasing.

Nature’s Blush + Amber Carat – close, but no cigar

Coral Chic + Amber Carat – orange creamsicle, anyone?

Then I decided to make one last attempt, using an old MAC  Lipglass layered over the L’Oreal lipstick. The Lipglass (“Florabundance”) had the right sheen to it – glossy but thick and not sparkly. The colour is an opaque pale peach that’s almost too close to my skin tone to wear on its own (I look like I’m waiting for a visit from the coroner), but I figured it might lighten up the too-dark lipstick just enough, while also giving it a hint of coral.

I was right; the two worked together quite well. In fact, this was the closest I got to my dream lipstick. For the time being, I’m going to stick to it. But who knows … a trip to the department store may be in my future after all.

Have you ever tried some DIY make-up at home and, if so, were you happy with the results? And if anyone can recommend a peachy-nude-glossy-matte lipstick, drop me a line in the comments!