Friday, November 17, 2006

Smart Shopping For Discount Designer Clothes

Every semester during high school I looked forward to picking out a dress for the school dances- Homecoming in the fall and Sadie Hawkins in the spring (where the girls ask the guys out...I think this may be a Midwestern thing) and during my junior and senior years, Prom. As much as I considered myself a non-conformist in high school (quiz bowl represent!), I totally bought into the idea that the senior prom was a momentous occasion, the highlight of high school social life.

And of course, finding the perfect dress was my top priority, because the right dress was key to having the glamorous, memorable night I was hoping for. I went to all the local malls and tried on lots of dresses, but I didn't find anything I loved until I came across an Elie Tahari silk floor-length gown at Nordstrom. It was beautiful on the rack, a dark red, gorgeous fabric, and there was only one left, which happened to be in my size. When I saw that it was marked down from $450 to $110 I was so excited. I tried it on, thought it looked great, still could NOT believe that I was wearing a designer gown and only paying $100, and bought it right away.

This may be predictable, but it turns out that it just didn't look so great on me. The reason that it was so cheap was because it had been returned after someone ripped the hem (they altered it for me for free) and got a small stain on the back. And the biggest thing was that it just didn't flatter my body, although it would've looked great on someone else. On top of this, it wasn't very comfortable. It was only once I was at the dance that I realized this and felt stupid for buying it just because it was designer and I'd gotten such a discount. Nobody knew that but me, so what did it matter?

Anyway, what does this story have to do with anything? Well, I was reading the New York Times yesterday and came across this article about the new Viktor & Rolf line for H&M. I think it's awesome that so many big designers (Karl Lagerfeld, Paul and Joe, Behnaz Sarafpour and Stella McCartney among others) are doing lines for discount stores like H&M and Target. For those of us who can't afford "the real thing", being able to get great design at affordable prices is fantastic.

But reading this article, and hearing about the crazed reactions of fans who waited for days outside of the New York H&M for the unveiling of the new line, reminded me how the combination of status symbol brands and major discounts seduces people into buying things they'd normally never take a second look at. That isn't to say that there aren't great pieces in all of these designer discount lines, but inevitably, most of us are so seduced by the prospect of buying from a luxury brand (and because they're limited edition, there's pressure to get it first before someone else snags it) that we buy things for all the wrong reasons.

So, while I encourage everyone to check out the designer discount lines, make sure you're still buying things because they're cute, flattering, interesting, etc, and not just because you're overjoyed that you were able to buy something designed by Karl Lagerfeld for $10. Because like I said, no one else will know that it's a limited edition Viktor & Rolf dress, but they'll definitely know if it's ill-fitting and ugly. Just a warning.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Getting The Best Service at Salons and Spas

Following up on yesterday's post on responding to poor service in restaurants, I wanted to talk a bit about how to get good service when you go to a salon or spa, and what to do if you don't. No one wants to end up as a victim of a scissor-happy hairstylist, as Rosario Dawson did recently.

First, do your research before trying a new salon or spa. Only go somewhere that's been recommended to you or that has very positive reviews online. If you get a personal recommendation, ask what treatment they received and who did it. This is particularly important for hairstylists. Your best bet is to find someone with a great cut or color who has a similar hair type as you and ask them who does their hair.

Choose a spa or salon that specializes in the service you want, especially if you're spending a lot of money. If the spa only offers one type of massage but 8 different kinds of facials, skip the massage and get a facial. A few months ago I made an appointment for a pedicure at a well-respected salon that is known for their manicures. I sat in the only chair in a dark, dingy room while my pedicurist talked on her cellphone half the time. Shockingly, my toes didn't look so hot when I left, and I wasted $50.

Talk to your stylist, esthetician, masseuse or manicurist before they begin. Explain exactly what you do and do not want. If you're getting a hair cut or color, this is especially important. If you don't like how it looks as they're working, let them know. You can be polite about it, but make sure you let them know how you feel. On the flip side, tell them it looks or feels great when it does. Also, if you have any medical conditions that might be relevant, make sure to let the spa/salon know first (for example, you should make it known if you're allergic to certain fragrances, or if you had a shoulder injury and you're getting a massage).

If you've had bad service, talk to the manager. It doesn't just have to be "bad service", if you get something quite different from what you asked for, like a bad haircut or an ugly color, most salons will let you come back free of charge to fix it. Same goes for bad spa treatments: if you get a massage that leaves you sore for a week, give the manager a call. Often, if it's the fault of the hairstylist or masseuse you saw, you can't complain right there, so in this case it's better to wait and call the next day. Let them know why your experience was bad, and if they aren't responsive, don't go back.

People go to salons and spas to relax and feel better about themselves. If you leave feeling worse than when you came in, you didn't get what you paid for, and in most cases, the salon or spa will want to do anything they can to make sure your experience was positive.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dealing With Poor Service at Restaurants

I often hear people talk about how they went to a restaurant with terrible service and I always ask, "well, what did you do about it?". Generally they say, "Oh, I gave a bad tip", but rarely do I ever hear about someone complaining to management about receiving bad service. This is really unfortunate, because most of the time managers are very receptive to customer complaints and you can often get a refund for terrible service, if not a gift certificate or at least a sincere apology.

There are varying levels of inadequate service, and it's important to respond appropriately to each level. First, be aware that generally, you get what you pay for, and you shouldn't expect the service at your local Applebee's to be as good as a four star New York restaurant. Keep your expectations reasonable based on how much money you're spending, and don't ever expect perfection.

There is a minimum level of service that should be expected at any establishment. You should be treated politely by your server, have your order brought to you in a reasonable amount of time (barring any extenuating circumstances) and eat food that is cooked properly. The server should check back on you at least once or twice during your meal and respond to you when you try to get his/her attention. Now, waiters and waitresses are human, and if they mess up your order once, are running a little behind because the floor is packed or forget to refill your water every few minutes, you should be forgiving. In a casual, inexpensive restaurant, still give the full tip. In a fancy restaurant, lower your tip to 15% or so (15% used to be the going rate for good service, but these days the normal rate seems to be edging up to about 18-20% or so).

Then there are times when service is mediocre, but not horrible. The waiter seems annoyed by everything you ask of him, or he doesn't come back to check on your table at all during the meal. In this case, definitely lower your tip to between 12-15% in an inexpensive restaurant. In a more expensive restaurant, you might want to talk to the manager (again, if you're paying over $50 a person, you have the right to expect polite, attentive service).

But if someone repeatedly makes mistakes (or makes one huge mistake, like forgetting to tell the chef that you're allergic to something so that you end up with an allergic reaction) or treats you with disdain, it's definitely time to talk to the manager. Instead of creating a scene by yelling "I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOUR MANAGER!" at the waiter, have one person discreetly get up from your table and ask the host or hostess to speak to the manager. It's far better to bring up the problem at the restaurant instead of waiting a few days and calling back, as it may be possible to still salvage your meal if you address the problem right away. It's understandable if you don't do this (a lot of us are totally nonconfrontational, or just don't want the hassle), but you are fully within your rights to bring poor service to the attention of the manager, as long as you do so in a polite and quiet fashion.

Explain to him or her the situation, what exactly happened, and that you're disappointed with your experience. Remember that the nicer you act, the more likely you'll get something in return. If it's early in the meal, you can request a new server. DO NOT ask for a refund or demand anything. As I said before, most managers will be very understanding and accommodating if you've had a bad meal. If they're not, don't go back, tell all your friends about how awful your experience was and maybe go on an internet messageboard such as Chowhound where you can make your experience known.

No matter what, it's important to remember that being a waiter/waitress is an EXTREMELY tough job. If your server appears to be trying very hard and is polite and apologetic for any delays or mistakes, give him/her a break. And don't forget to reward good or great service with a good tip in the 20% range.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Winter Skin Fixes

Here in New England, the weather still hasn't decided whether it wants to be fall or winter. Last Friday and Saturday night I ran around New York in a t-shirt and jeans, while the previous weekend I was wearing full-on snow gear: heavy coat, gloves, hat, and scarf. While I enjoy the rare warm weekend in November, I have a feeling that soon enough it's going to get cold and stay cold for a long time, which means a lot of bad things for your skin.

Every second you're outside during the colder months, the low temperatures and heavy winds attack your skin, stripping away the moisture. Every second you're inside, heating sucks up all the humidity in the air indoors. Most people find that their skin is rough, red, sensitive and dehydrated (or at least more than usual), and that the products they use the rest of the year aren't moisturizing enough. If your skin is dry, it doesn't have that fresh, dewy look that you have during the summer, which means makeup doesn't look as good.

Here are a few tips for keeping your skin hydrated all year round:

Get a humidifier. This is especially important if you live in an old building that uses radiators, like I do. You can get a relatively inexpensive humidifier at Walmart, CVS or Target, but make sure it has a filter (easier for cleaning) and that it produces cool air, not hot air (these have always broken on me). Leave it on whenever you're in the room, particularly at night, and you'll find that your skin isn't dry and tight when you wake up in the morning.

Use heavier moisturizers. During the rest of the year, it's nice to use light, fragrant lotions in pretty containers, but when winter rolls around, I end up throwing those in the closet in favor of two products: Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream and Aquaphor Original Ointment. These are not the most aesthetically pleasing products, and they aren't fragranced, but they are incredibly effective. The Aquaphor works great on hands, lips, elbows and feet, but because the main ingredient is petrolatum, it's best when applied before sleep (otherwise everything you touch will get greasy, as I quickly found out). Cetaphil is another multi-purpose product, but unlike Aquaphor, it's not oil-based (meaning you can use it during the day) and non-comedogenic (won't break out skin), so you can slather it all over your face and body to your heart's content.

Mix your makeup with lotion
. If you find that your makeup is drying, mix your foundation or concealer with a squirt of your favorite face lotion. The color won't be as strong (you're essentially making your own tinted moisturizer) but your skin will look better overall.

Use a moisturizing sunscreen. Just because you're not outside as much as you are during the summer doesn't mean you can ditch the sunscreen. It's still important to get protection from UV rays, just make sure that you're using a product that won't dry you out. I recently started using Vichy's Thermal S1 Long Lasting Rehydration Lotion with SPF 15 and I love it. It sinks in quickly without leaving a greasy residue and works so well at moisturizing my skin that I even use it at night.

Protect your lips. Chapped lips are painful and unattractive, so keep your lips soft and smooth with a good lip balm. My favorites are Burt's Beeswax Lip Balm and Blistex Lip Medex.

For anyone living in a climate with cold winters, it's critical to adapt your skin-care routine to the harsh weather. You can look just as good as you do during the warm weather, it just might take a little more planning and a few more products.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Shampoo Minus The Shower

I just got back from an extremely busy weekend in New York where I was going non-stop from 7:45am to 1am each day for an internship program. Sleep took a backseat to the task at hand, which was trying to get an internship for this summer. What kept me going during these ridiculously long days (other than caffeine)? Clean & Clear Instant Oil-Absorbing Sheets and Psssssst Instant Shampoo.

When I'm very active throughout the day, my skin tends to get shiny and my hair falls flat within a few hours, and by nighttime I need to take a shower if I want to look great for going out. Also, because this weekend I was interviewing all day, I was nervous and sweatier than usual, so I needed products that could be applied quickly and easily and have a lasting effect.

I've posted before about my love for Clean and Clear sheets (see my earlier post We all shine on...), so I won't go into much more detail about how they're so amazing, but if you have normal to oily skin and find your forehead is looking a little shiny by mid-day, pick up a package of these.

On to the Psssssst. Psssssst is a dry shampoo in an aerosol can that you spray on your scalp when your hair is flat or your roots are a little greasy. Once you've sprayed (follow the directions, it's easy to use but you'll only get the right results if you follow their tips) you let it sit for a minute, brush your hair and then, MAGICALLY, your hair looks clean and bouncy. It doesn't look 100% as good as when you shower and blow dry it, but I'd say it's about, well, 87% as good, which is fantastic if you're low on time.

There are other dry shampoos out on the market, but the most popular products (by Stila and Bumble and Bumble) are hard to use powders that are very expensive. I've also heard that they're messy and don't blend into all hair types. One great thing about Psssssst is that it's completely blendable (again, follow the simple directions) and won't get on your clothes. Oh, and the stuff is around $5. Love that part.

It's not only for people with thin hair, it's also great if you straighten your hair or get regular blowouts, to keep your style for an additional few days.

And on a final note, the retro 70's packaging (and not fake retro, real retro, as in it's been the same for over 30 years) and fun and onomatopoeic name (c'mon, you know you want to say it out loud) make it a really fun product and a conversation piece next time people come over. As an added bonus, with the pop art look you could easily put it on a coffee table and say it's a Koons or a Warhol piece.