Month: April 2015

Ugly Chic

J. Crew pleat pants
Blazer, J. Crew ; top, RACHEL Rachel Ray; pants, J. Crew Factory; shoes, Stuart Weitzman; bag, Mulberry (via consignment)

In Impossible Conversations there is a section called “Ugly Chic”, a concept that both Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli have explored in their design work. These pants are … definitely more high street than high fashion, but they reminded me of that section. I mean, we are talking about front pleat pants. Honestly, I am not 100% certain that I’m cool enough to pull off these pants in a chic (as opposed to just plain ugly) way, but I love their whole don’t-give-a-f**k vibe. As a bonus, they’re office appropriate. And hella comfortable.

J. Crew pleat pants

The colour is actually a lovely sort of subdued, soft cobalt. Less strident, for lack of a better word, than the usual shade of this colour one finds in stores. It goes beautifully with many pieces in my closet, starting with my ubiquitous black schoolboy blazer. Black and blue, and not bruise-like in the least. Ugly chic? I’ll take it.

J. Crew pleat pants
pleat-y goodness

Buying on Ebay, Part 2

Last time, I talked about some general strategies for eBay hunting. How about some more specific tips today? In the interests of accuracy, I would say that these are more suggestions, some of them fairly obvious and/or common sense, based on things that have worked for me in the past. I hope you’ll find them helpful as well.

Saved Searches

This is basically an eBay 101 tip, but creating “saved searches” can be an easy way to play the when-will-my-item-pop-up-on-eBay game? I would say that this works better for very specific searches, rather than general ones. If you’re looking for a particular pair of shoes, in a particular colour and size, then setting up a “saved search” based on those criteria will mean that you get a notification in your inbox next time someone lists a corresponding item – no need to check eBay every day. However, if your search is, say, “Anthropologie floral dress”, you will end up getting a daily notification email that includes a bazillion new listings. Now, you may want to look through a bazillion listings every day, but in that case, you can just as easily log into eBay and run the search manually every day. Personally, I found it annoying to get emails with very broad search results, especially as I had set up quite a few “saved searches” at the time and was deleting 10-12 of them every day.

Set Up a Maximum Bid

I call this the “set it and forget it” approach. This can be a great little tool for a number of reasons:

• I often forget when auctions are supposed to end, so if I’m waiting till the last minute to place a bid (the better to gauge my chances of getting the item for a price I like), I generally miss out on it altogether. Same thing if I put in the first bid, then get outbid; I probably won’t realize it until it’s too late.
• I’ve shied away from using “sniper” services, but this is the next best thing. I can set the highest price I’m willing to pay, and the eBay system will automatically “snipe” other bidders until my maximum limit is reached. Again, this is all done without any additional input from me, which means (a) I don’t have to continually check on the listing, or agonize over competing bids; and (b) I don’t get caught up in a bidding frenzy and find myself tempted to pay more than I originally decided the item was worth.
• It cuts down on my stress levels. As I mentioned above, I tend to find auctions very stressful if I’m watching the countdown to the end of the listing, and waiting to see if competing bids come in. I can just forget the whole thing, and then receive a pleasant surprise when eBay notifies me that I’ve won an item … or not. By which point, it’s too late to worry about it anyway.

A couple of caveats about this approach. One, never ever set up a max bid that is more than you are comfortable paying simply because you don’t think the bidding will go that high. It may not … or it may, in which case you will be legally obligated to proceed with the purchase, whether or not you have the funds. (Or risk getting dinged as a non-paying buyer. This has never happened to me, so I don’t know how much it impacts your ability to continue buying on eBay, but perhaps one of the readers more familiar with eBay policies can chime in.)

Two, and along the same lines, don’t completely forget about any outstanding bids you might have placed. Think of a bid as a one-sided commitment to pay, and budget accordingly. You may not end up winning the item, and therefore not have to pay, but you never know.

What to Buy and Not to Buy

This is almost entirely subjective, but here goes anyway:

Green light: dresses, tops, and bags

Basically, these are things where fit is generally not a huge consideration. Obviously, the more structured the dress or top, the more discernment you have to exercise. (Body type is also a relevant consideration; I carry most of my weight in my bottom half, and don’t mind wearing blousier things on top if need be, so I have more leeway with the fit of most dresses and tops.) Listings that provide actual measurements (usually chest, waist, hip, and length) are more helpful than ones that only list the manufacturer’s size.

Caution: skirts, pants, and shoes

This is the inverse: for things that require a good fit, buying on eBay can be tricky. It helps if you already know how an item fits you, either because you’ve already tried that particular item in real life, or because you know how the manufacturer’s items generally fit you. I would advise caution with the latter approach, because we all know that brands can be all over the place with their sizing and fit. If you have no other options, I would suggest trying to find reviews of the item online so you can at least get a sense of whether the item fits true to size or not, or if there are other fit issues you need to be aware of.

I would also exercise caution with jewelry, because (a) it can be hard to gauge the quality from photos; and (b) there are a lot of knock-offs out there (so-called J. Crew pieces are a good example), which may not be the quality you’re expecting. I have bought vintage costume jewelry on eBay, with largely positive results, but I had very low expectations going in.

Buying designer goods on eBay would also fall in the “caution” category for me, but they may deserve a post of their own because there’s a lot of ground to cover there. Let me know if you guys would be interested in one.

Now, the main reason why I advise caution in some instances is because, ideally, you want to avoid situations where you’re stuck with an unusable item. Some sellers will offer a return option (and, I believe that eBay requires sellers to offer returns in some situations) but this will generally not apply to items that are simply the wrong size. Not to mention, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of arguing over a return and paying for it – especially as I buy most of my items from overseas sellers. This is one downside of eBay over a regular retailer’s website – once you’ve bought something, there ain’t no going back.

Buying Internationally

If you’re a Canadian, like me, you’re probably wondering why this is even a “tip”; chances are, any time you buy something online, you’re technically buying from an international seller (albeit, more and more, one with a physical presence in Canada as well). But since a lot of BCRL readers come from outside of Canada, and may not have a lot of experience with buying internationally, I thought it would be worth talking about.

Let me start by saying that I have had positive experiences buying from international sellers located, among other countries, in the US, UK, Portugal, China, and Japan. Buying from the US is the easiest/safest in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that you should limit your search parameters to North America only. Here are some things to keep in mind:

• Always research your seller. Whether he or she lives in the next state/province over, or half way across the world, they could be a perfectly nice, honest person … or a crook. My next post in this series will be on tips for staying “safe” while shopping on eBay, so I will cover this more then, but always start by looking at the seller’s history and reviews.
• Never pay more than you can afford to lose. I know this seems harsh, but that is the price for all the convenience that eBay brings. The farther away an item is coming from, the more chances for something to go awry. Certainly, if you can prove that something legitimately got lost in transit, you may be able to get your money back; but it will likely take time, if not considerable hassle, and the seller on the other side may not always be helpful. (Also, my understanding is that if an item shows up as “Delivered” in the mail system, you will be out of luck – even if you never actually received it.)
• Adjust your expectations with respect to shipping. It can take time. More time than you might expect, especially if you did not pay for priority shipping. Things coming from the US to Canada take anywhere from 1.5 to 3 weeks, depending on location. A package from China once took nearly 6 weeks to arrive. Be aware of the deadlines for filing a report with eBay over a missing item, but otherwise try not to stress out too much. For what it’s worth, I’ve never had a package go missing.
• Be prepared for surprises. You may get hit with extra fees on delivery. Here, it’s important to distinguish between customs fees and brokerage fees. Items delivered through USPS (or your local government postal service) will be subject to customs fees, where payable, but not brokerage fees which are typically charged by a third-party shipping agent (think UPS). In my experience, brokerage fees are higher than customs fees (at least when talking about sub-$1,000 items), and for that reason I avoid buying from any seller who ships via methods other than USPS. EBay’s Global Shipping program does charge a sort of brokerage/handling fee, but the cost is listed upfront, and you can take that into consideration when deciding whether to bid or not.

[I have never researched the law in Canada with respect to customs, and obviously it would be different in every country, so I can’t give you any advice in this regard. For what it’s worth, I have rarely had to pay customs fees.]

Next week, I’ll be talking about some general safety tips for shopping on eBay. In the meantime, share your eBay success strategies in the comments!

Weekend Shortlist

Currently Wishful Thinking About: Cartier Love Bracelet

Cartier Love Bracelet
Cartier Love Bracelet

I’m turning 35 this summer, which is kind of a milestone (half way to 40, whoo … hoo?), which means … presents! Big presents. Huge. My husband has been warned. (He’s turning 35 two months after me, and is looking into obscure German watch brands.) I reeeeeally want the Love bracelet, because I can see it being one of those pieces I never take off – perfect for commemorating a milestone. A couple of years ago, my husband bought me the Trinity ring, and it is my favourite piece of jewelry bar none except for my wedding rings; I wear it every single day, and I love its classic, understated look. Sadly, there is a big price jump between the ring and the bracelet, and I can’t really justify it. At least not at 35. Maybe 40? 50? I guess getting older has its perks.

Currently Not Loving: My Hair

big ol' mess
big ol’ mess

This is not good, you guys. Bad things happen when I’m bored/dissatisfied with my hair. But here we are, again. My last perm really dried out my hair for some reason, and it’s not looking all that great either. It’s time for something new … I just have no idea what.

Currently Hunting: YSL Besace Bag

YSL Besace Bag
YSL Besace Bag

Oh, the irony is strong here. I sold this very bag late last year, convinced that I wasn’t getting enough use out of it … nor would be in the future. Cue to this spring, and my realization that its somewhat androgynous, minimalist aesthetic is very much my (current) cup of tea. Buying the Muse II reminded me of how beautiful YSL bags can be – the gorgeous nubuck leather is stunning. Sooo, I am stalking eBay I’m the hopes of being reunited with the Besace.

Let’s not talk about the whole paying-for-a-bag-twice thing. Just … no.

Currently Reading: Italian Days


This May will mark 10 years since my last trip to Italy, and that fact makes me really sad. However, in honour of that milestone, I’m re-reading Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s fantastic travel memoir, which is still one of the best books about Italy out there. In particular, she has a wonderful ability to evoke the atmosphere of each city. The only downside is that she has an equally evocative way of writing about food (and, as anyone who has ever traveled to Italy knows, there is a lot of food to write about) and it makes me unbearably hungry every time I start reading. The book chronicles her travels in the mid-80s, so it’s not particularly topical, but it captures the mood and character of the places like no other. Definitely worth a read, even though she favours Rome above all other cities (my heart belongs to Toscana, and Florence in particular).

I have also been reading this book, which I don’t recommend because it is terrible for one’s wallet:


Currently Obsessing Over: Where Is Littlefinger Taking Sansa???

HBO's Game of Thrones
HBO’s Game of Thrones

Sorry non-GoT watchers, this category will probably bore you for the
next 9 weeks, but I’m being very literal about it. Because, all I want to know is where IS Littlefinger taking Sansa ? I’m not spoilered, so this is just speculation on my part, but don’t read any further if you’d rather wait for the reveal.

This is your last warning.

Smart money is, apparently, on Petyr taking Sansa to Winterfell. When I first read that, I was very surprised. I’m not a huge fan of the Theon/Mance storyline in the books, so its apparent deletion is no loss to me … But, holy hell, what a departure this would be! Martin has just released a new chapter from The Winds of Winter, and in it Sansa is very much still in the Vale. However, the possibilities of what she and Petyr can accomplish together at Winterfell are making me feel very excited. Aside from the age differential, I am being slowly sold on a Sansa-Petyr pairing, at least in the short term. I know, I know. Most people hate Petyr, and are probably revolted by the idea. I don’t care. Until she sticks that knife in his back (trust, it is only a matter of time in the TV series), they make a good duo.

The other interesting thing that happened in last week’s episode is Mance’s death. As I mentioned, that ties in to a re-writing of the Winterfell episode from A Dance with Dragons, which is one thing. But what impact on the storyline will Jon’s role in Mance’s death have? I am the queen of unpopular GoT opinions, because I love Jon (book Jon more than show Jon, to be honest) and his storyline matters the most to me. Melisandre’s interest in his personal business (lady, get in line) may be a good sign of the show sticking with the books, or not. I’m not sure how I feel about the latter possibility. Ok, go ahead – pelt me with rotten cabbages … and then tell me what you think is going to happen.