Style on a shoe-string

When I decided to start this blog, one of blog titles I briefly considered was “The Budget Fashionista”. Kind of unoriginal, but it does describe my fashion (and shopping) philosophy pretty well. My friends are, by now, familiar with my mantra that everyone can afford quality, if they shop smart. I’ve touched on it here before. But I thought it would be worthwhile to put together a short list of easy shopping strategies that can yield great results.  Here is part one.

1) Get your face- and hair-care products at Winners. It took me a while to start paying attention to the beauty products aisles at Winners because, let’s face it, it’s not what most people visit Winners for. But overlooking it would be a mistake. Winners now routinely carries name brands like RoC, L’Oreal, Olay, Essie, O.P.I., Coppertone, Sebastian, Nioxin, TIGI, Redken, Rusk, Wella, Joico and many others. Prices are often 40-60% less than in drugstores, and you can find everything from face cream, to sunscreen, to shampoo and conditioner, to styling products (and styling tools), to nail polish, and even make-up. Winners also carries perfumes, although I’ve noticed that, lately, the selection has been less extensive than before. The only draw-back is that if you are partial to certain specific products, you may not (always and/or reliably) find them in store. For the most part, I don’t have a set beauty routine (make-up excepted), so this isn’t much of a problem for me. But when I do run into a product I really like, I usually stock up, just in case. Winners offers the additional benefit of occasionally carrying products that are difficult to find elsewhere — like my RoC toner for sensitive skin. 

2) Buy second-hand. I’ve trumpeted the awesomeness of consignment stores before, and I’m going to do it again. There really is no better way to pick up designer clothes at a fraction of the retail prices — at least not locally (I’m not counting eBay because it can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, plus it requires a PayPal account). 
I’ll give you an example, from a recent shopping trip. In total, that day, I spent $115 on a dress and 3 tops. The dress was a Calvin Klein shift made of polyester-rayon blend, which set me back $69.99 at Winners. Not a bad deal for a nice office-appropriate dress. Still, the three tops I bought (at consignment) cost, together, about half that. I got a Jacob Connexion silk camisole, a Club Monaco silk blouse (with original tags still attached), and a Teenflo lace top. The Club Monaco top alone was originally $129, and I got it for $12. 
I will admit that there is a major drawback to consignment stores. You are constrained by the selection, so if you are looking for a specific item or brand, you may or may not have immediate success. Additionally, plus-size selection can also leave something to be desired, although it is possible to find specialized brands (like Torrid) that we don’t otherwise have here in Edmonton. On the other hand, I have never understood people’s reluctance to wear second-hand clothes as a principle. Obviously, there are things (like underwear or swimwear, for example) that I would not buy if they have already been worn. However, these are exceptions. I wonder if people who are against second-hand items imagine that the clothes they buy in stores are made out of ‘virgin’ fabric, untouched by other human hands; they’re not. Chances are, they’ve already been tried on a half a dozen times or more in the store. And laundering all new purchases is easy enough to do.

For designer handbags, the secondary market is particularly useful. Designer handbags are like cars; they lose a lot of their value as soon as they’re taken out of the store. This means that you can pick up great bargains on high-end bags from people looking to sell past years’ models. Kijiji, for example, is a decent place to look. Because most sellers are local, you don’t have to worry about shipping, and you can arrange to view the item before you buy. One thing I would caution, when buying designer bags generally, is to really do your homework. If you’re not familiar with the bag you’re looking to purchase, look online for buying guides — they will tell you what to look for in the real thing, or what to watch out for in fakes (eBay is actually a good source for this). Certain brands, like Coach and LV, have a ton of guides out there that tell you everything you need to know to spot an authentic bag from a knock-off. Generally speaking, any high-end designer bag sold online for under $200 will most likely be a fake, although I have also seen fakes selling for upwards of $400 (often touted as authentic). You’re more likely to find a good (and genuine) bargain on an older model than on this month’s hot new handbag. Try to speak to the seller beforehand, and go with your gut feeling; I hate to sound petty, but poor spelling is often a bit of a warning sign. With all that in mind, over the years, I’ve been able to get some amazing deals on (authentic) bags from brands like Coach, Kate Spade and, yes, Louis Vuitton — I’m talking up to 80% off the original price. 

3) Don’t be a snob. I know — this is kind of an ironic heading, given my love of labels, but it still applies. Don’t be afraid to shop at big-box stores like Superstore or Zellers, especially for basic items like cotton tanks and tee’s, cardigans or flip flops. A lot of these places have jumped on the bandwagon of ‘store brands’ or ‘store collections’ — like Joe Fresh or Alfred Sung (for Zellers) — and their clothes can be quite nice … and extremely well-priced. I’ve talked about Joe Fresh before, but I’ve also come to love the Sung collection (especially for their really cute cashmere-blend cardi’s). Old Navy is also great for basic cotton tops, and the best for flip flops (a wide variety for as low as 2/$6). In the States, Walmart has the Norma Kamali line, pictures of which I’ve seen from time to time in magazines (cute), but, unfortunately, which does not appear to have arrived up north yet. Big box stores often have a bad rep for carrying polyester monstrosities, but they really are trying these days … you should give them a chance.

So … what about you? Share your money-saving fashion tips in the comments — hey, I’m always looking to learn something new!

Wedding style

Wedding guests are generally a kind-hearted lot. Maybe it’s the spirit of the day, maybe it’s the free-flowing alcohol, but they tend to be munificent with their compliments. At least that’s was my experience, having been compared to Grace Kelly more times on my wedding day than in the rest of my entire life (the count previously standing at exactly zero, to be precise). In any event, I won’t quibble over the reasons, since the result was eminently pleasing – better, certainly, than being compared to, say, the bride of Chucky.
Here is a look at my wedding dress:
  Credit: Strictly Photonic                
And here’s a close-up:
                             Credit: Daphne Chen Photography

Time piece blues

I need a new watch. Well, I don’t need a new watch, but I would find one extremely helpful — let’s not get mired in technicalities. Normally, the necessity of acquiring a new accessory would create a welcomed opportunity (to shop) rather than a problem, but finding a new watch has proven very problematic. I tend to find the functionality of watches outweighed by my dislike of actually wearing them (they feel weird on my wrist), so I can’t just wear any old watch – it has to offer something more than mere practicality. So, for me, picking a watch is similar to picking an engagement ring – it has to be just right and it has to ‘wow’ me. And don’t bother asking me to describe exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll know it when I see it.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I have a fondness for classic, old-school type watches. My last watch was an Emporio Armani tank watch with a brown leather strap.
I first saw it in a magazine, back in my undergrad days, and lusted after it knowing that it was out of my league. Years later, when my parents asked me what I wanted as a graduation gift (after my second degree), I knew it had to be that watch. We’ve been through a lot, that watch and I — the best of times, and the worst … a.k.a. my mid-twenties. Lately, though, I stopped wearing it and (though I kinda hate to admit it) it’s for superficial reasons – the brown just doesn’t work with most of my current wardrobe. A sad postscript to our love affair.
But my love of classic watches endures. Last year, I bought my then-fiance a beautiful Tissot. Can’t you almost see it on Don Draper’s wrist?
When he clapped eyes on it, my husband was suddenly willing to overlook the superstition which holds that it’s bad luck to give watches to loved ones (something about hastening the end of the relationship). That’s the power of a beautiful watch.
Of course, I have my “dream” watch too. Unfortunately for my present search, it’s not really a practical option, considering that we’re talking about this:
The magpie-side of my personality also not-so-secretly covets a little bit of bling … so perhaps something more like this?

Ok, so Cartier’s definitely out (for the time being — a girl likes to dream). Help me out here – any ideas for where I should look for a new watch? Any timepiece love stories you’d care to share?