Friday, November 24, 2006

Wrapping Paper For Every Style

While my mother will probably find this statement sacreligious, I really hate wrapping paper that screams "CHRISTMAS." You know, the kind that's in your face with red and green and sparkles and Santa and all that, it's just cliched. Instead I prefer papers that are so pretty and interesting that people don't want to unwrap it to see what's inside (and this will happen with the right paper, I guarantee it).

So here are a few wrapping papers that are sure to impress anyone on your holiday gift list:




















You can find a few more great designs here, here and here.

If you're completely inept when it comes to wrapping gifts (is it sad that I still ask my Mom for help?), check out this guide from eHow and if you're more ambitious and want to create an unforgettable wrapping, you can read Martha Stewart's articles on wrapping here.

Although wrapping paper is often just an obstacle between us and presents, with enough thought it can make any gift more stylish and thoughtful. Check out the the giftwrap I've mentioned, and feel free to comment if you find any other cool styles.

Also, thanks to the anonymous commenter who gave me the idea for this post. I always appreciate ideas or suggestions from readers, so send comments and e-mails!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Cute Holiday Cards

When I was in high school I started collecting art postcards (like the kind you buy in museum gift shops) as a way to remember my favorite pieces from a show or collection. I still do that, but lately I've gotten more into collecting stationery and thank you cards. Letter writing might be a dying art, but thank you notes and holiday cards are still as appreciated as ever. If you've ever received a letter, birthday card or even a postcard from an old friend you haven't seen in years or someone you don't know very well, you know how nice it is to feel like someone's thinking about you. There's something about getting a beautiful card with a thoughtful message that really just makes you feel good, which is why I love writing them. With the holidays coming up, it's time to pick up some holiday cards to send to friends and family. Even if you can't write a long message, people will appreciate your taking the effort to write them.

Last week I came across this website, Broadway Paper, which has a fantastic selection of holiday greeting cards. They're a little on the pricey side if you're going to be mailing a ton of people, but you can always send nicer cards to your closest family and friends and regular ones to your acquaintances, coworkers and extended family. Here are a few of my favorites:





















Don't forget to send cards to anyone you want to impress. Whether it's your boss, your significant other's parents, a professor or the person you have a crush on, a pretty card with a thoughtful message will go a long way.

Another great thing about high-quality cards is that they can often be a substitute for a more expensive present. As a college student, I don't have a lot of extra cash to buy expensive gifts for all my friends, so I like to mail them homemade gifts (I usually bake something or make chocolates) along with a long, handwritten note telling them how much I appreciate them. While I'm sure that some people would prefer a gift certificate or a pricier gift, everyone loves being told how great they are.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Keeping The Peace During Holiday Meals

Today's New York Times article entitled "Pass a Drumstick, and an Olive Branch" had some great tips for making your holiday gathering as enjoyable and peaceful as possible.


Here's a quick summary of the do's and don'ts recommended in the article, along with a few tips of my own.

Do:

Bring something for the host. Call in advance to ask what kind of food you could bring, but a small gift or bottle of wine is acceptable too.

Offer to help the hostess with anything she needs. If you're the host/hostess, give people tasks to make them feel needed and to give anyone who looks bored something to do.

If someone says something offensive during the dinner conversation, acknowledge the comment and change the subject. If someone frequently makes rude or offensive comments, it might be worth speaking to them before the big day. If you're not comfortable doing that (or feel that it this will only egg the person on), just be prepared to defend anyone who is personally attacked.

If you're the host/hostess, make it clear when people have to stay at the table by asking everyone to stay until the meal is over. If there are younger children, let them go and watch a movie or play games between dinner and dessert, but often if you let people wander between courses, it's hard to round everyone back up.

Pretend to enjoy yourself. Someone (presumably) worked hard to cook and clean and host a meal for multiple people, so show respect for your hosts by making the best of the situation.

Try to eat what you can if the food is bad or it's not compatible with your eating restrictions (except for those recommended by a doctor). Of course, it's up to you to let the hostess know in advance what you can and cannot eat, so she can plan accordingly.

If someone brings up political or religious viewpoints that are offensive to you, try as hard as possible to avoid fighting. If the person won't drop the topic, excuse yourself to get more food, another drink or to go to the bathroom. Let yourself calm down, and hopefully in a few minutes by the time you return, the conversation will have moved on.

Thank the hosts profusely before you leave. Write a thank you note or call to thank them within a couple of days.

Don't:

Act sullen.

Pick fights (or allow them to continue).

Complain. Save it for the ride home!

Leave the table before the host says you can.

Drink too much.

Do anything that will make the situation less comfortable for other people or show disrespect for the hostess.

Final word: Do what you can to make the event run as smoothly as possible for everyone, even if you're having a terrible time. And if you're hosting, don't beat yourself up if people don't get along. What are the holidays without dysfunctional family dinners? Everyone will laugh about it later.

The Perfect Denim Pencil Skirt

Since July I've been searching for the perfect denim pencil skirt. After the first few tries, I lowered my goal to simply "a denim pencil skirt that doesn't make me look ugly." Why the concession? Because every skirt I tried on made my hips look huge and my legs short and thick. This is not exaggeration, when I walked out of the J. Crew dressing room a few weeks ago, my sister just scrunched up her face and just said, "umm... that's not going to work."

But I kept searching, because I love pencil skirts but wanted one that I could dress down. Plus, they're so versatile, they look great with everything from ballet flats to knee-high boots, tank tops to blouses, and you can wear them every season. I was not ready to give up just yet.

Eventually I realized that the problem was that the clothing companies cut their skirts the way they cut their jeans, low on the hips, and kept the 5 pockets. The low rise draws attention to your hip area and the pockets bulk you up, but unlike with jeans, a pencil skirt ends at your knees, so it doesn't off-set the bad hip effect by elongating your legs. I had to find a skirt with a higher waist and no pockets if I was ever going to be able to pull of this look.


But in browsing the Ann Taylor website last week, I came across the denim pencil skirt of my dreams: no bulging front or back pockets, high-waisted, knee length, no stupid holes or ripped details. As a plus, it came in a dark wash, which is extra flattering. You can check it out here. It's a little more expensive than what I'd normally pay for a casual skirt, but after 5 MONTHS of searching for this thing, I was not willing to wait for something cheaper to come along.

So Last weekend when I was running a few errands at the local mall, I made a point to stop in the Ann Taylor and try it on. You'll be happy to know that they run a little large (I'm not sure if it's just this skirt or everything at Ann Taylor, but I'm not complaining). I normally wear a size 8, sometimes fit into a 6, but I actually looked best in a FOUR, which certainly made me more excited about getting it. I don't think I've worn a 4 since... ever.

But outside of the sizing, it really is as flattering as it looks. If you have very slim hips or an athletic build, you probably want to stick to a regular denim pencil skirt with the low cut and 5 pockets, to add some curves. But if you're like those of us blessed with more, um, generous hips, definitely check out the high-waisted, pocketless skirts.

On a side note, I'm really happy to see that Ann Taylor has a much "younger" look these days. They still make a lot of classy, stylish professional clothes, but I no longer associate it with shopping with my Dad for a Mother's Day present, I've found a lot of great things for myself there. And they still have a large petite section in every store, for all the short women out there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Cure for "Ooh, I need that!"

I'm generally a very picky person, and clothes and accessories are no exception. I'll look at a pair of super cute shoes, decide they'd be perfect if they were just an inch shorter, in black instead of brown and with a pointier toe, but I'm not willing to cave on something I don't love, so I walk away. But I keep the image of my fantasy shoe in my head and every time I'm browsing shoe sites or walking through Nordstrom, I keep a look out for the pair. I haven't found them yet, but who knows?

So I was really excited to come across Like.com. It has a search engine that searches jewelry, handbags, shoes and watches based on visual qualities, and it's amazingly accurate. Plus, it's super fun to play with.


If you are dying for that hot new Marc Jacobs bag but realize that your price range is more Nine West, you just look up that bag and ask the site to find other bags that look the same. But you can adjust which aspects (like the color, size and pattern) are most important, so if you suddenly decide you want a bag that looks just like the Marc Jacobs bag but comes in purple, the site will find it for you (assuming it exists). How cool is that?

Also, they have an archive of celebrities, so if you see a picture of Scarlett Johansson and want earrings just like hers, you can search for her and they'll come up. But beware, they also feature celebrities with terrible fashion sense, like Fergie, Paris Hilton and the Olsen Twins. Stay away from them!

I always love those "The Look For Less" features in magazines, and this is basically that on a huge scale. They don't have clothing up yet (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll have it eventually), but for now, I'm having fun indulging in my search for my dream shoes.

Spanx To The Rescue!

A while ago I was browsing through Us Weekly (I was at the dentist's, I swear) when I came across a short interview with Jessica Alba where she was quoted as saying, "I wore Spanx under my Fantastic Four costume... Spanx are the only thing that smoothes out all of my lumps and bumps." My first thought was, "Jessica Alba's got cellulite? Score for normal girls everywhere!" See my friends, stars really are just like us. Then I went on a mission to find myself a pair of these miracle hose.

Spanx are available online, at most major department stores and at a lot of lingerie boutiques. I bought myself a pair of "All the Way" hose, which look the same as the cheapo CVS nylons I normally buy, but do a fantastic job of making my stomach, hips and legs all look slimmer, showing no "lumps and bumps" and NO panty lines. They won't take 10 lbs off your body, but they'll certainly make a difference. They were also far more resistant to runs than my normal nylons, but just as all good things must come to an end, after 6 or 7 months, the Spanx got a run and I had to throw them away.


So I'd mostly forgotten about the magical Spanx until I was browsing through Nordstrom on Sunday and came across these. They are REVERSIBLE tights, one side black, the other dark brown. I have to admit that I'm easily impressed by any product that is 2-in-1 or multi-purpose, but you gotta admit that that's pretty cool.

I love wearing skirts year-round so I was excited to find tights that would keep me warm even in New England winters with the added benefit of "holding me in." These are also perfect for the holidays, as you can eat as much as you like at Thanksgiving dinner and no one will ever know.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Decoding Business Casual, Part 2 (Tops/Accessories)

Yesterday we talked about choosing the right skirt or pair of pants for the elusive business casual dress code. Today, I'm going to talk a little about the the right top.

When it comes to tops, it's acceptable to wear a blouse, a sweater set or a fitted knit sweater. Again, don't be afraid of interesting tops, as long as they are still professional. I love this cashmere turtleneck, this high-neck top and this crossover sweater.

If your industry is more creative, try a batwing sweater or a short-sleeved printed blouse. Avoid thick wool sweaters that add bulk, long sweaters or cardigans, anything low-cut and any shapes that aren't body-conscious.

If you like the simplicity of dresses, choose a dress with a simple shape, in wool, polyester or flannel. Avoid bright colors or crazy details. Unless you can dress more casually, avoid knit dresses. Here are two nice examples of a basic sheath dress and a gabardine v-neck dress.


Don't forget to keep your shoes and accessories professional. You're not required to wear hose to a business casual event, though they are a good idea if you're wearing a skirt. Keep your purse small and simple, or bring a business-like tote. Avoid anything with hardware, as it's too trendy and casual. If you need to stay on the conservative side, stick to classic pumps, flats or sling-backs. For creative industries, it's acceptable to wear open-toed shoes during the summer months. Boots are also acceptable, but make sure they are fairly conservative, nothing above the knee, no ankle boots, and keep the heel relatively low (below 3 inches). Equestrian style boots are too casual, as is anything scrunched or folded-over. Here are two nice examples- this and this.

Women are lucky in that they have far more options than men when it comes to business casual, so don't be afraid to have a little fun with that freedom!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Decoding Business Casual, Part 1 (Pants/Skirts)

Few phrases inspire more confusion than "business casual attire." Most people have a vague idea of what this means (not formal, but not casual) but are unclear about what exactly they can and cannot wear under the guideline of business casual. Add in the fact that business casual can mean totally different things depending on the kind of company or event you're attending and you can end up staring at your closet for hours wondering if you have anything appropriate to wear.

Fear this phrase no longer, because I've come up with some guidelines for dressing business casual that will keep you looking smart, sophisticated and profession but allow you to retain some individual style and personality. For more information on business casual, check out this guide.


Before you start picking out your outfit, consider the event you're attending and the company or group putting it on. How traditional or creative is the industry? What kind of people will you be interacting with at this event? If the industry encourages more conservative attire (finance, law, consulting) stick to a more conservative outfit. If it's more creative (marketing, film/tv, PR, anything artsy), you can try something a little more adventurous. If you're going to be mingling with your superiors or anyone who you want to impress professionally, stay more conservative.

If you are totally lost and unsure about what is appropriate for your specific event, you can't go wrong with the staples of business casual: a button-down dress shirt and a pencil skirt. This is also the best option for anyone in more conservative industries. Don't be afraid of a colorful top; as long as it's not neon or has a print, adding some color to your outfit will keep it from being boring. Another way to make the outfit a little more interesting is by wearing a high-waisted skirt, a very flattering style that's in this season. You want both the shirt and skirt to be fitted and flattering but not tight, and the skirt should hit around your knee, no more than 2-3 inches above. Here are examples of a great basic top and skirt that will never let you down.

Pants are also acceptable for conservative and creative industries, but make sure they're made of a more "professional-looking" material, like wool or flannel. Linen, denim and corduroy would not be appropriate. Here's a pair that would flatter all body types and work in any industry or situation.


Don't be afraid to wear a skirt with interesting details, like this bow pencil skirt, this tweed skirt with a ruffled bottom or this flannel skirt with cutout detailing. All three are polished-looking but still feminine and interesting.

Come back tomorrow for the second part of my business casual post, where I'll talk about tops and accessories.