Saturday, December 16, 2006

To Regift Or Not To Regift?

A few weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about regifting (unfortunately it's no longer available online). Regifting is something almost everyone has done at one point (though we wouldn't want to admit it), but it's very risky. If you forget where you got the present, you might give it to a mutual friend or family member of the original giver, leading to a very uncomfortable situation when that person comes across your gift in someone else's house.

But, if you decide to regift something, there are a few guidelines to follow:

Make sure you're 100% sure who gave you the gift before you give it to someone else. Obviously the worst case scenario is that you give someone their present back, but it's just as bad if you give the gift to the original giver's best friend. The best way to avoid this situation is to only regift to someone who is in no way associated with the original giver. If you're not sure who gave you something, you shouldn't try regifting it.

Don't regift anything you've used. If regifting something is slightly disrespectful to the person who gave you the gift, giving a used gift is disrespectful to both people.

Check that there isn't a personalized note in or on the gift. Forgetting this step can be very dangerous, as someone will be far more offended that you were too lazy to notice this than they would be about the regifting.

Don't regift food or perfume (unless you check the expiration date). According to the article, perfume evaporates within 6 months. And no one wants stale food.

Don't regift "important" presents from the people who are closest to you. If someone makes a big deal about the gift, they're going to ask you about it in the future. You're best off storing it somewhere in the house and wearing/using it when the person comes over.

Just because you're regifting something doesn't mean you shouldn't follow the regular gifting rules. Only give people things you think they'd like. Make sure the gift is in good condition (iron clothing so it looks new). And don't give anything that's dated (like the signature piece from last year's collection).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Asking For Feedback from an Interviewer

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was recently rejected from an internship that I thought I was qualified for and wanted very badly. I was feeling really confident that I'd get the job because I felt like I aced the interview I had a few weeks earlier, but obviously I made a few big mistakes. Because I was curious about what I could have done, I e-mailed the my two interviewers (I remembered to ask for their business cards, so I didn't have to search around for their contact info) and politely asked them for some feedback.

It's totally acceptable to request feedback whether you're hired for a job or not (though obviously you're more likely to want it if you've been rejected). The key is phrasing it the right way so that you don't come off as bitter or angry (even if you are).

You want to start out by thanking the interviewer and then express disappointment (but not shock) at being rejected. Then you want to politely ask for feedback on your interview, for the purpose of improving your interviewing skills. Finally, you want to thank them again for considering you. Here is the e-mail I sent to my interviewers, it's not perfect but I felt that I at least got the point across without being rude:

Dear X and X,

I was very disappointed to hear that I wasn't accepted for the summer internship program, I had a very positive experience over the weekend and was so excited about the possibility of working for Company X. As my interviewers, I was wondering if either of you would be willing to give me some feedback on my performance. I would really like to improve my interviewing skills and would greatly appreciate any comments or advice you may have for me. Thank you again for even considering me for the internship program, and for putting on a fantastic weekend.


Meg X

This company had paid for me to attend a recruitment weekend, so I had more to thank them for, but usually you can at least thank the interviewer for answering your questions and giving you a tour of the office (if they did this). As painful as it was, I tried to focus on the positive aspects of my time with them and my desire for self-improvement.

I have no idea if my e-mail had any effect on them, because one didn't respond and the other sent me a form letter saying how tough their decision was. A lot of companies have policies saying they don't give feedback on interviews, and those that do won't always care enough to respond to someone they rejected, so know that going in. But you never know if someone will respond, and you might get some very helpful constructive criticism. Getting rejected sucks, but at least you can try to improve from your mistakes- at worst, you'll get a brush-off form letter, but you might get some excellent advice.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hair Damage Help

Every woman wishes she had different hair. While millions of women dye their hair blonde, straighten it daily and get it cut so it doesn't look so thick, I've spent my life doing the opposite: I dyed it brown and red for a few years and permed it until it got fried and literally started falling out (luckily I grew out of this phase by the time I turned 17). Sick of the upkeep and the damage, I no longer process my hair, but I do spend time curling it before I go out, and I've spent what must be thousands of dollars on thickening and volumizing products that promise to give my hair tons of body (but never really do). I've thrown in the towel- my hair will never look like Catherine Zeta Jones's.

Oddly enough, my sister's hair actually looks a lot like Catherine's (she got Dad's genes, I got Mom's). She has dark, wavy, super thick hair. But she's also really damaged her hair from straightening it every day (as many of my friends also have). It's well known that heat styling can fry your hair, and hairstylists recommend that you don't use heat on it every day (hair dryers, curling irons and straightening irons all count), but on any day that you're not bumming around the house, who has the time to let their hair dry naturally before going off to class or work?

As a result, many companies are now producing hair styling tools that not only promise not to damage your hair, but to actually strengthen it. Sephora offers eight different products that feature fancy materials like Tourmaline and offer "ionic and infrared benefits" (whatever those are). Despite the fact that these straighteners, curlers and dryers are all in the $100-$200 price range, women are lining up to buy them, perhaps out of guilt for all the self-inflicted damage they've done to their hair. I even shelled out $30 for a cheapo version of the ionic blow dryer (it had me at "silky smooth shine").

I've always wondered whether this stuff actually works, but a couple of days ago I found out for sure. My favorite blogging scientists, The Beauty Brains, had a post on the scientific validation of these products. Apparently, there is no scientific proof that the composition of the plate material has any effect on your hair, and promises of ionic conditioning are just a lot of marketing BS.

My condolences to those of you who shelled out $200 for the T3 Tourmaline Professional Ionic Wet or Dry Iron.

So what can you do about hair damage? Well, if you're going to use heat styling, you should put product into your hair first, to serve as a barrier between the heat and your hair. A serum like Terax's Life Drops or Oscar Blandi's Jasmine Oil Serum should make a difference. Don't forget to use conditioner every day, and a deep conditioning treatment once every week or two should keep your hair looking healthy. When my hair was at it's worst, I really liked Phyto's Ultra Nourishing Oil Treatment and I've heard great things about products by Carol's Daughter.

But while conditioning will certainly make your hair look and feel better and help prevent future damage, no product is capable of changing the molecular structure of the hair, and previous damage will still be there. The best thing you can do is get you hair trimmed every couple of months, even if you're growing it out. And if you're really ready to help your hair, you can stop dyeing, bleaching, perming and chemically straightening your hair. Though I know I'll never have the thick, dark, curly hair I desire, I've learned to embrace my hair's natural color and type, and it feels good knowing that it's far healthier than it's ever been.

Anyone have tips for keeping hair healthy, or HG hair products they'd like to share? I'm always on the lookout.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bad Trend Gone Worse: Skinny Jeans on Guys

In one of my earliest posts I discussed my feelings about the ubiquitous skinny jeans, and the many reasons why I find the style unflattering and downright ugly. In the last couple of months I've found a variation of the skinny jean that offends me even more than the original: skinny jeans on MEN.

Yes, I know it's shocking. You may not have experienced this sartorial catastrophe firsthand, but as a visiting student at a co-ed (woo!) liberal arts college known for its trendy hipster population (and widespread drug use, which may be a contributing factor), I see this style on a daily basis. You may ask what kind of man chooses jeans last seen in George Michael's Faith music video (though I've seen much tighter around here), and I honestly can't tell you... if one of my male friends showed up in a pair, I'd make him change.

But I have to say, unlike women, men at least know when they don't have the body type to pull of the skinny jeans (if there is such a thing as pulling off a horrific style). You don't see football players walking around in them, that's for sure. But still, there are certain things are better left to the imagination (and the outline of a guy's leg from hip to heel is only secondary here).

I imagine that you'd find this style if you went to a Misshapes party or a concert by some indie cult band, and on other "hip" campuses around the country. But I don't expect to see this trend extending to the average American guy (if only because the average American guy is about 150 lbs heavier than the guys I see wearing skinny jeans).

But they're certainly present in high-end men's clothing stores. Lucky and Levi's both sell at least a few styles of "slim cut" or "skinny" jeans, and I counted over FORTY styles of skinny/slim cut jeans on the Barney's men's denim site. Incredible!

Anyone have any reports of seeing skinny jeans on guys in other cities? And does anyone find this attractive?

One final note about skinny jeans on girls: it appears as though I may have been right in predicting that skinny jeans would go out of style very soon. People Magazine's Off The Rack Blog posted that many trendsetting celebrities have abandoned the style. Does this mean skinny jeans are on their way out? One can only hope.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thoughtful Gift Guide: DIY Gifts- Cards

Yesterday I posted about some of my favorite homemade gifts, but I did not include my absolute favorite gift to give: homemade cards. I am not artistically gifted (my drawing ability extended to stick figures and shapes) but I still really enjoy doodling and making collages, which I often turn into cards for my friends and family. One of the great things about homemade cards is that if you do it right, the person likes it so much that it's unnecessary to buy or make an additional present (unless you really wanted to).

For instance, one of the best presents I've ever gotten is a small card from my best friend. She sent it to me before I had an important job interview, when we hadn't seen each other for a while. It's a store-bought card that she decorated with funny pictures and sayings that reference our inside jokes, and she wrote the sweetest message inside. It wasn't sentimental or dramatic, she didn't tell me that I was the greatest person in the world, or anything like that. She just talked a bit about our friendship and said some really nice, encouraging things. I keep it on my desk and look at it every day. No matter how bad I'm feeling, or how many times I've read it, I always laugh and feel better after I see it.

The key to making a homemade card is not to try to emulate a store-bought card, it's about personalization. The best cards are really funny and sweet, and make reference to things you and the other person really enjoy, or inside jokes and stories. The artwork doesn't have to be good, it's usually funnier when it's awful.

If you don't have the time to make a homemade card, you can always modify a store-bought one, as my friend did. And, if you want to make something with a more serious message, or you think a silly homemade card won't go over very well with someone, buy a card and write a long, thoughtful message inside. Tell the person how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate having them in your life. Don't use hyperbole or say anything you don't really mean, just be truthful.

Whether you make a card yourself or just write a message in a store-bought one, people always appreciate being told that they're important and loved. And unlike most things, a fantastic card is something that people keep and appreciate for a long time. You might be surprised at how, for many people, a thoughtful card can mean much more than an expensive gift.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Thoughtful Gift Guide: DIY Gifts- Baked Goods/Candy

For the past few weeks I've been constructing a gift guide that is based on giving thoughtful, interesting presents to the people you care about. I've tried to find things that were available online, relatively inexpensive, and easy to get at even the last moment. But in my opinion, the best gifts are homemade gifts, presents that show great thoughtfulness, time and effort.

Just because homemade gifts generally aren't as flashy as store-bought ones, I find that they are the gifts people appreciate the most. People get so many presents that they could have bought themselves, or that they don't really need. Finding a unique gift is difficult, and often expensive. Because it's so rare that anyone gets something homemade, you can be sure that your gift will stand out.

As I've said before, I'm not very talented in the kitchen, but I like to cook and bake, so last Christmas I gave friends containers of homemade cookies. Over the course of 2 days, I made hundreds of cookies, using really simple recipes from Everyday Food Magazine (many of their dessert recipes are available here).
I didn't use any recipes that took more than 10 minutes of prep time, and while not every batch came out okay, my cookies were actually pretty good overall. For people who lived out of town, I mailed them (this was a bit pricey, but if you make the cookies the day you send them, you can get away with 3 day shipping, or even ground shipping if the person is close enough).

This year, with my confidence boosted from my successful bread baking experiment, I'm going to try something a little more ambitious, making a few different varieties of cupcakes using recipes from The Cupcake Blog.

Making homemade candies or chocolates (or chocolate-dipped pretzels and strawberries, my favorite) is also a great option. You just need to go to a baking or cooking supplies store to get the ingredients (melting chocolate is key) and decorations, but making chocolate and candy is really easy and fun.

Even if you know you're not the greatest baker in the world, if you stick to easy recipes and give yourself time to make a few bad batches before you get the hang of it, I promise you'll end up with some pretty tasty cookies/chocolates/whatever, and your family and friends will be impressed that you took the time to make them something homemade.

If you're making homemade gifts, it's important that you also include a nice card. Tomorrow I'll give some ideas for making your own cards and how to write a note that's easily as meaningful as any present.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Weekly Best Dressed Award- Marcia Cross

I've realized that I often trash celebrities and their poor fashion sense, and while I try to show why their look doesn't work and how it could be improved, I feel bad for being so negative. It also seems hypocritical of me, as a woman who resents the constant scrutiny of female celebrities based on superficial things like their weight, looks and fashion choices when they're just walking the dog.

So I've decided to add a new weekly (or semi-weekly, depending on the selection) post on a female celebrity who looks fantastic, and break down what she (or let's be honest, her stylists) did to flatter her body and make the most of her features. Then I'll try to find a similar outfit for reasonable price.

This week's featured celebrity is Marcia Cross, who, despite being very pregnant, looked absolutely fabulous recently.

Sure, Marcia Cross is beautiful, but it takes real skill to look as stunning during pregnancy. This outfit draws attention to all the right things: the v-neck and empire waist show off her fuller chest and adds a little sex appeal, the tighter fit of the skirt highlights her belly (a far better option than wearing a tent dress when you're showing) and the knee-length skirt shows off her shapely calves.

And, being pregnant, she's been able to hide areas of her body that she might not want to show off: the 3/4 sleeves hide upper arms, the flirty hem of the skirt draws keeps the skirt from being fitted to the thighs, and the jersey fabric and dark purple color is very slimming (it also compliments her skin and hair beautifully). She also hits the accessories right, going minimalist with a long, delicate necklace (also draws attention to her cleavage in a subtle way) and strappy gold sandals.

This look would look great on any woman, pregnant or not, because it's so effective in flattering certain body parts and hiding others. It's also a look that's very simple to replicate, and is easy to dress up or down.

You can find three similar, beautiful (and reasonably priced) dresses here, here and here. Also, here are some great strappy gold shoes from Ralph Lauren and BCBGirls that capture the look well.