Month: May 2012

West Coast postcards

Ah, Vancouver! It will forever hold a special place in my heart, since it was the city in which my husband and I first dated. Long distance relationships are fraught with all sorts of difficulties, but the course of true love is always a little bit less bumpy when it involves traveling to a beautiful place. And is there a more beautiful place than Vancouver in the springtime? 

This time around, as always, the city is positively riotous with colour. Everything grows lush in Vancouver, even in the most shaded, concrete-bound or forgotten of places.
And then, of course, you have the views. No matter in which direction you turn, you are bound to see some piece of landscape that will make you practically gasp. For any indecisive people – like yours truly – who cannot seem to settle on a definitive answer to that age old question “mountains or sea”, Vancouver has the perfect solution: both.
Another thing the city has to offer in abundance is good food. I couldn’t begin to write an exhaustive list, but most of my favourites are little hole-in-the-wall type places where locals tend to congregate, and for good reason. For me, one of the best kept secrets of downtown Vancouver dining is The Dish on Davie. I am by no means a healthy food fanatic – as my steady diet of carbs, sugar and chocolate (yes, it’s a separate category) can surely attest – but I crave the delicious, all-fresh and all-natural fare served up at The Dish. If you ever find yourself in the neighbourhood, you simply must try the to-die-for “Romaine wasn’t built in a day” salad (I dream about it in between visits), and one of the mouth-watering wraps (my faves are the Sophia breakfast wrap and the Chili Feta wrap). And don’t forget to say hi to the friendliest people around!
If you’re traveling with kids – or a kid-at-heart – a stop at the Vancouver Aquarium is a must. Located in beautiful Stanley Park (a must-see on its own), the Aquarium is chock-a-block full of fun for the whole family. Everyone has their favourites, and mine are the otters and the jellyfish. A special shout out to the belugas too. The last time I visited the Aquarium, back in the summer of 2009, they were on special exhibit as “baby belugas”; how time passes – they are now all grown up, though still a special sight.
Traveling to Vancouver always ends up feeling a little bit like a sort of home-coming. Things change and yet, somehow, the city still resonates the same deep down. This time around, traveling with my son for the first time, I learned a few things though. First, and most important, traveling with a kid is nothing like traveling alone or with your spouse. I’m not sure why I was surprised by this – seeing as how life with a kid is nothing like the life I used to know – but I was unprepared for it. Once you embrace the chaos, though, things tend to go much more smoothly. Second, people in downtown Vancouver loooove babies. Over the past ten months combined, I have never had as many strangers stop to look at and chat about my son as I had over the course of one week in Vancouver; this happened everywhere – buses, stores, restaurants, the beach, the street. My kid’s a total ham, so he ate up the attention, setting up a dangerous precedent. He considers his parents a poor substitute for the audience he is now used to. Third, living spaces in Vancouver are tiny. I already knew this, but working to manoeuvre an Alberta-sized stroller through doorways, hallways and various public and private spaces certainly brought the point home. Last, but not least, a picnic on the beach on a sunny afternoon in Vancouver will make you almost wish that the city was your first home.

Till next time, Vancouver!

Back-to-work shopping budget: May

This month was very successful, shopping wise. Perhaps too successful.

Most importantly, I finally found pants! Yay! And not just any pants … I found the Holy Grail of dress pants: 100% wool, fully lined, perfectly tailored. I usually buy my dress pants at Banana Republic Factory Outlet because I like their fit, and they go on sale fairly often; the downside is that they’re pretty basic and the quality is not thaaaat great. So I was thrilled to find an alternative; these Dana Buchman pants were a real steal too; I googled around a bit, and the original price tag would have been $180, but I got them for $20. Nearly 90% off is the kind of deal I can always co-sign.

Continuing the pants theme, I also found a couple of pairs of jeans at Value Village. OK, I didn’t really need them, but they were both so comfy, I couldn’t resist. First, a pair of Paige boot cut jeans that, sadly, were hemmed a bit too short for me, even in flats. I decided they would make a great pair of cropped jeans; luckily my grandmother is a whiz with small tailoring jobs. 

They ended up being a little bit more flared that I like for a cropped pant, so they will be my “scrubby” summer jeans. Considering that I got them for $5.99 (original retail around $190), I don’t feel too bad about making that call.
I also found a pair of iT jeans, which is my favourite brand of denim. I have yet to find a pair that doesn’t fit like a dream. This pair (Twiggy model) is a relaxed/boyfriend straight cut, perfect for casual weekends. They will be replacing my old pair of straight-cut jeans from the Gap, which no longer fits due to, ahem, my “mommy hips” situation. Again, I had to hem them a bit for I could wear them with flats. iT jeans sell for around $90 at retail, but this pair only set me back $5.99.
I also found a couple of dresses at Value Village. This navy, retro-style Isaac Mizrahi for Target dress has a cool neckline; I also loved the fullness of the skirt. Again, this needed a bit of attention from my grandmother, as its original zipper was busted. [As an aside, I really regret not learning basic tailoring skills from my grandmother when I was younger; it’s a bit of lost art these days, which is a shame.] The price was $16.99 – a bit high, in my opinion, but something I’ve come to expect from Value Village these days. 
My other pick was a beige dress from The Limited, also $16.99. Like the Mizrahi dress, this one was also missing its belt – not a problem for yours truly. It looks fab with my yellow belt, dontcha think? The dress is made from (organic!) cotton, so it’s very light and comfortable for summer … plus, it has pockets!!
After buying the four pieces above, I ended up with a “30% off an entire purchase” card from Value Village; the only caveat was that it had to be used before May 12. I couldn’t resist, and back I went. The next 3 pieces came home with me, all for just under $17.

I picked this Gap blouse because of its lovely, delicate print. It reminds me so much of my favourite botanical drawings.

The material is a silk/cotton blend that feels light as air, perfect for summer. It is a looser/blousier style, which can be tricky, but I think it will look great with my skinny jeans. I am also going to experiment with tucking it into my pencil skirts, to see how versatile it might be.

I love polka dots, so I had to have this Joe Fresh skirt. It’s a fuller style than I normally choose in skirts, but the material has a nice weight to it that gives it a good shape. It was about a size or two too big, but this is an easy problem to fix in skirts – no alterations required. I just wear it lower on my hips, and compensate for the extra inch or two in length by wearing really high heels.

And finally, I found yet another pair of straight-cut jeans, this one from paperdenim&cloth. No tailoring required here!
Total: $83. Two months in, I exceeded my budget by $39. Having said that, I got way more things than my original list contemplated. Three dresses, 3 pairs of jeans, 2 skirts, 2 pairs of pants, 2 tops, and 1 pair of shoes – for $159. Not bad.
So, what will be in store for June? Between you and me, I see a few more thrift and consignment trips in my future, so you will definitely get another update at the end of next month. Whether my budget will go further in the red, or not, will remain to be seen.

Frugal style: Deconstructing the outfit

To go with this week’s other post on thrifting tips, I decided to deconstruct a few more outfits for your viewing pleasure. Ready to guess some prices? To make things easier (or not), I will tell you the brands upfront.

Outfit #1
Abercrombie & Fitch jeans; See by Chloe top; Joe Fresh coat; 
Stuart Weitzman shoes

Here’s a confession: I have never paid more than $60 for a pair of jeans. True, I have also never owned a pair of True Religions, Rock & Republic, or other high end denim. [Until recently. More on that next week.] Can’t say I’ve ever felt like I was missing out. This pair of skinnies I bought after I gave birth to my son last summer, and couldn’t fit into my old Gap pair anymore. The label says Abercrombie & Fitch, but I bought them at consignment. I have worn them everywhere. I wore them almost exclusively for most of last fall and winter, and they’re still holding up pretty well. They’re comfortable, they’re a dark enough wash to feel a bit dressy if necessary, and I only spent $34 on them. I guess what all that is meant to convey is … that you don’t need to spend $100+ on a pair of jeans that will be flattering, versatile and long-wearing.

The shoes are pretty cool, no? The colour provides a great pop of colour for a lot of different outfits, and they’ve shown up on this blog more than a few times. I love Stuart Weitzman shoes. Love them! I love them so much that I did once spend $300 of my own money buying two pairs of his shoes – on sale. They usually run $300+ for a pair, which – no matter how cute and comfy the shoe – is a good chunk of change. Looks aside, it’s debatable whether $300+ shoes are more comfortable than a $100 pair (although I have heard good things about Miu Mius), so I don’t think they’re worth the additional moolah. Can you guess how much I paid for this pair? $39 plus GST. Granted, this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of sale – trust me, I’ve been stalking Mayfair Shoes every year since then, and no such luck again – but it does happen. My go-to brand for affordable quality – especially if you wait for sales – is Nine West; a good pair of office pumps can run as low as $30 brand new, or less if you’re willing to go second-hand.

The jacket is from Joe Fresh, via consignment store. It cost me $15, which is probably not far off the original price. I have lost count of the number of compliments I’ve gotten on this jacket; a male co-worker went so far as to comment that it looked “expensive”, which I thought was rather funny. The lesson: certain fabrics and prints can look expensive no matter what the price tag (or the label) says. If you keep mum, no one will know the difference.

The top is also a consignment find – a silk See by Chloe camisole that ran me a whopping $12, about a tenth of the original retail price. I love the delicate print, but there is no way I would pay full price for it, simply for the label. It wouldn’t be worth it, considering plenty of silk tops can be found in the $30-40 range at places like Winners. The price I paid, though, was a bargain no matter how you look at it.

The total cost of this outfit: $100. About what the jeans, alone, would have cost at full retail price.

Outfit # 2
MICHAEL Michael Kors jeans; Tory Burch top; Taryn Rose shoes;
Gucci sunglasses

I will start with the shoes, because they are the most expensive item here. Taryn Rose is a not-so-well known brand around these parts, and hard to find as well, but it’s a gem. Their shoes are stylish, super comfortable, and high quality. They are also pricey. The pair I own – super soft and flexible patent leather in a gorgeous tortoiseshell finish – were originally around the $100 mark at Winners (if I recall correctly). I stalked them for a long time, before finally snatching them up, on clearance, for $55. A lot of money for a pair of flats, but these ones are so worth it. I have literally walked miles in them at a time, with nary a blister in sight, and they are still in amazing shape after years of use.

The jeans are nothing out of the ordinary, apart from the fact that the fit is great. The label doesn’t hurt, but it wouldn’t be worth any extra money on top of the $25 I spent on them. If there is a theme to this post, it’s that good jeans don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

I have to say that I have admired Tory Burch pieces many times on my occasional trips to Holt Renfrew (OK, not so occasional, but in my defence, it’s literally a few hundred meters from my work office tower – practically unavoidable), but have never brought myself to spend the hundreds of dollars it would cost for me to buy an item at regular, or even sale, price. Lucky, then, that I ran into this silk tunic-style top at consignment. As I previously wrote on this blog, since the top was not exactly my size at the time, I tried hard to convince family and friends to buy it, both for its lovely print and the great price. For various reasons, no one did, and I finally decided to “adopt” it when it went on sale. As it happens, it now fits better than ever, and I am still crazy about how it looks – it’s perfect for a summer afternoon stroll or drinks on a patio. Cost? $25. 

Finally, the sunglasses are retro-looking Gucci. I don’t believe in paying a lot of money for sunglasses because, after a certain price point ($50-ish), there is no appreciable difference in terms of UV protection; looks-wise, cute sunglasses are easy to find at all price points. [The caveat is that I wear contacts, so I don’t need prescription lenses for my sunglasses.] Having said that, it’s not impossible to get designer sunglasses for a great price; Winners, in particular, has amazing clearance sales from time to time. This pair ended up being a gift, but they had been marked down to $12 when I picked them out.

Total cost of this outfit: $117. About half of the original retail price of the top.

So, how did you do? Were your guesses in the right ballpark?