Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday Links

Less really is more according to the New York Times, who have listed 8 easy tips for better skin in 2008.

The Wall Street Journal
looks at why fragrance sales are slowing.

Cathy Horyn of On The Runway interviews designer Junya Watanabe and gives a lot of interesting insight into how she reviews collections.

Gala Darling
discusses ways to be more charming.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Links

The New York Times Magazine has an article on Etsy and the rise of Buy Handmade.

The Guardian
interviews the models fighting for union representation.

skips the over-hyped, expensive beauty products in favor of drugstore finds (turns out beauty editors do the same).

calls on Congress to reinstate the discounts on birth control pills for college women.

The Beauty Brains
shows why a $50 bottle of Kerastase is identical to a $4.99 tube of L'Oreal Vive Pro.

Have a happy holiday, everyone! My boyfriend is coming to town next week to celebrate Christmas with my family and we've got a lot of exciting things planned, so I'm going to take a short vacation from posting. I'll be back on January 2, 2008!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Finds: Last-Minute Gifts

As the holidays near, I like to stock up on small presents to give as last-minute gifts for people I've forgotten, or as hostess gifts if I've been invited to on a short notice. There's nothing worse than being in a situation where someone you don't know very well and weren't expecting to receive anything from gives you a thoughtful holiday present. You don't have the time to fight the crowds at the mall or wrap the item, so you end up either giving nothing or running and grabbing a generic Starbucks gift card. I don't think there's anything truly wrong with giving someone a gift card as a present, but it certainly isn't personal and doesn't suggest that you gave a lot of thought. I keep lots of extra gift bags and tissue paper at home as well as small, last-minute stocking-stuffer type gifts for just these situations.

I think that for gifts under $20, it's great if you can find an item with beautiful design or packaging. It shows some extra thought and reflects some of your own personality and style. Soaps and candles are two of my favorite inexpensive gifts, since everyone can use them, or at least set them out in their bathroom or leave them for guests. I tend to find the prettiest and most original looking soaps and candles at specialty gift stores, but Sephora and Anthropologie have a decent selection.

I've also had a lot of luck finding small gifts at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Both stores have a beauty section, featuring mainly organic products. But their real draw is their selection of food gifts. Boxed truffles, gourmet hot chocolate, handmade marshmallows and peppermint bark are all great gifts, and are elevated by the cool packaging. It's hard to go wrong with sweets, and again, you know that if someone doesn't care for a particular flavor (or if they're on a diet), it's something that's easy to re-gift or share with friends and family.

And if you're the baking type, it's never a bad idea to make a huge batch of a fairly simple sweet like chocolate-covered pretzels (you can have fun decorating with sprinkles and drizzled white chocolate and caramel), fudge, bark, brittle or turtles, any candy that won't spoil quickly. A few hours of work and you have a large selection of homemade presents that will impress anyone.

Do you have a go-to gift for these situations?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is Regifting Acceptable?

Between writing final papers, taking final exams, driving home to Michigan and rushing around on last-minute Christmas errands, I've had a crazy couple of weeks. I got a little bit behind on blogging, so today I'm going to run a post I originally wrote last year on the subject of regifting. Thanks for understanding, I'll be back to normal posts once the holiday craziness is behind me!

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 a recent 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).

What are your thoughts on regifting?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Product Review: The Body Shop Mango Products

Recently, my friend Sidnie made her beauty blogging debut by reviewing two new holiday sets from C. O. Bigelow (reviews here and here). I was so proud of her posts that I asked her to write another, this time for The Body Shop's Mango Time Out gift set, which I was sent earlier this week. Extra props go to Sidnie for reviewing this when she probably should have been writing her senior thesis!

Finals time in college for me usually means choosing between sleep and bathing, but armed with new products to test and a sense of duty, I chose the latter and headed off to the showers. I tested a gift set from The Body Shop which included Mango Body Scrub, Mango Shower Gel and the their famous Mango Body Butter, as well 2 exfoliant gloves and a little glycerin soap. I have to admit that to date I have not used the glycerin soap, which I expect is more a sort of added bonus to the gift set than a product that would truly knock my socks off. I use antibacterial soap and then I had all of that shower gel, so there was little room for that tiny soap.

The Mango line is meant for very dry skin, which I definitely have. I’m a West Coast runaway living in New England and at this time of year, when I’m regularly getting smacked in the face with something called “wintry mix” I wonder why I ever left, and that same cold, in collaboration with my super-dry house, has certainly taken a toll on my skin.

After shaving, I started with the scrub. I’m not sure if that’s the proper order; I don’t know much about this beauty stuff at all really, but it seemed counter-productive to try to exfoliate hairy legs. I put on the exfoliant gloves and got to business. I have to say, I felt a little silly standing in the shower stark naked save for two orange gloves and trying to position myself so that I could get at my scaly legs, and dip my hands into this tub of scrub without getting too much water in it. The scrub smells amazing and is this pretty, fresh orange color. The sugary granules applied with the gloves certainly works to exfoliate, but the sensation isn’t all that pleasant; imagine rubbing yourself down with some sandpaper. I moved on to the shower gel stage feeling rug-burned.

I was really skeptical about the shower gel- the bottle I received was only 8.4 fluid ounces, so I thought I could probably run through it in a week. Not so- the little spigot only allows a little to come out of the bottle, and a little is all you need because it really lathers up. Like the scrub, this smells delicious.

I have to air one more small frustration at this point with the Body Shop- under a title of "MADE WITH PASS!ON" was a paragraph detailing how “for years, Indian women have been rubbing the kernels from the velvety mango onto their skin to keep it soft”. First of all; this shower gel, aside from smelling a little like mango, is not comparable to that. It would have been purchased in a shopping mall and it contains a myriad of ingredients and very little actual mango. If mango worked best, why not just head to the Stop n’ Shop and really do it? What I’m left with, then, is that I should somehow feel connected to Indian women because we both slather our bodies with mango-esque products. I find this ethnocentric, patronizing, and trite. Not to mention the danger this poses of exoticizing the Eastern woman. I chalked this up to the fact that I had been studying too much International Relations and moved on to the body butter after toweling off.

I have shopped at the Body Shop on-and-off for years now, feeling worldly as a teenager because I could buy both my Stop AIDS bracelet and lip balm at the same location. I consider the body butter to be their premiere product and they carry 18 different types, ranging from hemp to the holiday cranberry and vanilla spice, all categorized by how dry your skin is. I used the body butter at the end of this process in varying amounts; first liberally and then as a slight veil over my skin. I would definitely recommend using this sparingly; even with dry skin this left my skin greasy. I remained greasy the following day and actually felt the product wash off the following evening in the shower. It helped my skin, but it was slightly gross. It also got all over my sheets, which are luckily a mango color anyway, but I wouldn’t suggest getting them on a high thread count or your silk sheets. I assume some of the butters intended for less dry skin may have less of a greasy effect.

The set is pretty and it certainly works to hydrate skin and make it softer, even tough skin like mine. Curel is still my gold standard for hydration, but you’re not going to buy that for a holiday gift (my general rule is refrain from wrapping and placing under the tree things I have purchased at a drug store). The regimen would be great to use once a week as a treat, and the shower gel could be used all the time. Meg and I agreed one could use the body butter on feet with toasty socks over to protect sheets. The packaging is a bit of a problem; the butter and scrub both strike me as too thick to place in a pump bottle, which is probably why they are in tubs. I made sure my hands were very clean in applying the butter, as I was just dipping my hands in, touching my body and then dipping back in, making the tub a breeding ground for bacteria. Overall, when used sparingly (and I’d suggest using the gloves with less rigor) this is a nice set for a person who likes to pamper themselves.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pet Etiquette

Okay, I'm just going to say this upfront: I'm not an animal person.

Some people react to this news as if I've just told them that I eat puppies for lunch. In reality, I just like to admire animals from afar, but to a lot of people, this lack of enthusiasm is considered offensive. I don't know when it was that it became generally acceptable to anthropomorphize pets and treat them as children, but it seems like it's only been in recent years that a whole industry has grown around the pampering of pets. You can take your dog for a trip to the spa, buy him designer clothes, take him around in a Hermes carrier and have a catered birthday party for him and his puppy friends. People spend money on a lot of frivolous things, and that's their own business, but I think it really goes to0 far when people begin expecting others to treat your pet as an equal.

The New York Times
recently published an article on the subject that was alternatingly hilarious and disturbing. It included stories of people who lost relationships after putting their pets before their family members and friends. One woman insisted on bringing her dog to her parents' house for Christmas despite the fact that her sister's fiance was allergic, and was furious that she was told to keep the dog in the bedroom. Another couple brought their (uninvited) dog to a wedding, who proceeded to get pond scum all over the white furniture and help himself to the hors d'oeuvres table. The most shocking part of the story is that the dog owners did not understand why their behavior was inappropriate.

Pets are wonderful companions and friends, but they are not people, and I don't think it's fair to expect others to fully accommodate your pet. It's important to be conscious of others when you have your pet around, and not to make any assumptions about the person's feelings about your pet. I think it's courteous to always offer to put your dog away if someone comes over, and to never, ever bring the pet along with you to another person's house unless they've explicitly said it's okay. If you are in a position where you've brought the pet and someone mentions they're allergic or uncomfortable (you should try to look for these signs, sometimes people are afraid they'll seem rude if they have to ask you to put the animal away), it shouldn't be up for debate, you should take the dog outside or into another room.

If someone doesn't want to be around your pet, don't take it personally. Some of us just aren't pet people, it has nothing to do with your pet in particular. I know that other people's feelings can be hurt whenever I've mentioned that I don't like pets, so I try to at least show interest in the pet by asking questions and telling the owner how cute, smart, personable, etc he is, but politely mentioning that I'm just not an animal person. If the person doesn't take the hint and put the pet away, I tell them I'm allergic. I am actually allergic to cats and some dogs, so this isn't a total lie, but I think it's justified if the dog or cat is seriously interfering with my ability to enjoy my time with my friend or family member.

What's your opinion on pet etiquette?

Monday, December 17, 2007

David Beckham for Emporio Armani

One of my biggest issues with advertisements is pointless objectification. The last thing that's going to make me want to buy your product is a half naked women lounging next to a bottle of perfume. I've often sat flipping through magazines with a friend and wondered aloud why there are so many images of naked or nearly naked, hypersexualized women, and so few of men. It's not like women don't enjoy a little male eye candy (and not the "guy with his shirt off" sanitized, cheesy Cosmo type), or sometimes think about men in purely sexual terms.

Well, my wish was granted last week when Emporio Armani unveiled their new underwear ad (warning, probably not safe for work), featuring David Beckham laying on a bed in tight briefs with his legs spread. While an advertisement featuring a female model in the same position, wearing a similar amount of fabric probably wouldn't get a second glance, Beckham's ad is actually pretty shocking, considering the rarity of such images. Basically, it's all about his package, and what those Armani briefs do for it.

I was a kid during the heyday of Calvin Klein underwear ads, and I couldn't think of another mainstream brand that's used sexually explicit (I use this term loosely) images of men in their advertisements, so I looked up some older ads to see how they compare to this. It's interesting that they generally feature the men standing up and facing the camera, whereas Beckham is laying down, face is covered in shadow, while all lines lead the viewer's eye to his bulging underwear. Mark Wahlberg looks sweet and goofy, Antonio Sabato Jr. stares you down and Michael Bergin poses like a Greek statue. There's something more sensual than outright sexual in these ads, and it's just striking to look at how much the Beckham ad differs.

I think the ad raises the question of whether advertisers should objectify men. On the one hand, it feels unfair that women are always reduced to pieces of meat, but alternately, that doesn't mean that men should be too. I was surprised to find that I felt kind of uncomfortable with the ad, similar to the way I feel about hypersexualized images of women in advertisements, but a quick survey of my friends showed that most of them just thought it was hot and liked the fact that a man was being totally objectified for once.

The fact that Beckham is an A-List star and not just a model is especially interesting, since it's pretty rare to see top male actors and music artists sexualized that much. Female stars are expected to be sexy in addition to talented, and the media reflects that in advertisements, photo spreads and performances. A famous actress posing in her underwear rarely makes headlines in the way that this ad has gained so much attention.

The ad has gotten a lot of press (unsurprisingly), but it will be interesting to see how successful it is for Emporio Armani, whether consumers actually go out and buy more underwear or if they just spend time gawking at Beckham's body. I'd be very curious to see whether this ad appeals to both straight and gay men, since sexualized portrayals of men are pretty rare among ads aimed at straight guys, and I'm not sure whether this much of an aspirational image for straight men.

Are you a fan of the Beckham ad?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Saturday Links

Capitol Hill Barbie has tips for dressing for every holiday party.

The New York Times
recommends that you do your research before buying into the green fashion movement.

discusses Michelle Obama and the issue of colorism and beauty.

The Wall Street Journal
reports on a recent study showing just how many Americans are willing to marry for money.

Salon's Broadsheet blog
discusses the upcoming reality show "When Women Rule The World".

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Finds: Holiday Party Dresses

As of now, the only holiday party I'm attending is an "Ugly Christmas Sweater Party" that my friends are throwing, a perfect cheap and cheesy gathering to take our minds off finals stress. My mom has donated one of her favorite Christmas sweaters, fully embellished with sequins, beads, little knit balls and even an applique Santa on the back (she wears this without irony and I love her for it). Even though I don't have any swanky parties on my calendar, I love perusing the glamorous holiday party dresses that are filling the stores. I love this season's trend of more structured, body-conscious dresses, and the return of more classic styles that won't go out of style in a season. I may not have an occasion to wear any of these, but hey, a girl can dream.

Here are a few of my favorite holiday party dresses:

Eliza J Jewel Neck Party Dress, from Nordstrom, $118

Donna Ricco Silk Georgette Dress, from Nordstrom, $118

Isaac Mizrahi for Target Taffeta Couture Bodice Dress, $49

Jones New York Surplice Silk Babydoll Dress, from Nordstrom, $178

As U Wish Two-Tone Party Dress, from Nordstrom, $74

Maggy London Cutaway Silk Dress, from Nordstrom, $138

Kenneth Cole Reaction Pleated Silk Dress, from Macy's, $111.75

Evan Picone Iridescent Taffeta Dress, from Macy's, $109

Maggy London Sequined Dress with Belt, from Macy's, $119.25

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Buying Perfume at Discount Stores

Dear Meg,

I was looking at perfumes on the internet today and found out that Wal-Mart sold some higher end perfumes. I don't really go to Wal-Mart alot so I was really surprised to see this. For comparison, Gucci Envy Me (EDT, 1.7 oz) was $49.86 at Wal-Mart. It was $62 at Sephora and Nordstrom, and (also EDT, 1.7 oz). Now I realize that there's definitely a difference in level of service at Wal-Mart versus Sephora and Nordstrom, but still, what gives?

I have also wondered why sometimes you see perfume at discount places (Nordstrom rack, Ross, TJ Maxx, etc.) at cheaper prices than department stores. They seem to generally be in resellable condition (box isn't beat up, no obvious marks).

If the products at Wal-Mart and discount stores are real, how old would they probably be? Old enough that the scent would have altered? Or just not moving fast enough at the higher end stores? Or are they defective, which is why they are not at the department stores?


Unfortunately, I know very little about perfume (I'm allergic to most scents so I don't buy it), but I thought Christine's question was a good one, and I was wondering if any of you guys could fill her (and me) in on whether perfume at discount stores is just as good as the bottles at fancy department stores.

My gut feeling was that it definitely is, but I don't know whether age could affect the scent...but then again, I'm not even sure if it's the case that there's less turnover at the discount stores. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dressing For Your Boss

One of the benefits of working in a "creative" field is having a lot of options when it comes to choosing an outfit to wear to work. When I first started my internship at a New York advertising agency last summer, I was delighted to see the huge range of styles people wore to the office, everything from jeans and tees to classic business casual skirts and blouses all the way to power suits. Some people were obviously very fashion-conscious, others didn't seem to care at all. While I initially was excited at the prospect of getting to wear (almost) anything I wanted, I soon realized that within different parts of the company, there was an unspoken dress code that I needed to learn.

Because I would often spend time with a lot of different departments in a single day, I was unsure how to dress to impress both the young, laid back creatives and the more formal, high-fashion account executives. I finally settled on mimicking my boss on her more formal days, since I think it was important to recognize that her higher status allowed her more leeway in how she dressed, while I had to work to impress everyone as a lowly intern.

Another thing I noticed was that women dressed up more (or appeared to have spent more time on their look) in departments where the majority of employees were women. This could be purely anecdotal, but I definitely sensed that appearance was more important on my brand (where all but one of the account people were women) than those that were dominated by men. We talked about fashion, complimented each other on cute looks and (sadly), people were sometimes gossiped about when they wore something deemed inappropriate.

Recently, Fashionista had an interesting post on the topic of dressing for your boss. Some women talked about having to tone down their style with a more conservative, less fashion-conscious boss, while one female executive mentioned that she hires women who are better dressed than she.

I was curious what your experiences have been with dressing for the office. How much do you adjust your style in an effort to impress your boss or co-workers? If you're higher up on the corporate ladder, do you judge the people working under you based on how they dress?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Product Review: C.O. Bigelow Soda Fountain Mini Mentha Lip Shine Trio

Last week, my good friend Sidnie made her blogging debut after reviewing C.O. Bigelow's Lemon Collection. This week she's following up with a review of the Soda Fountain Mini Mentha Lip Shine Trio, which was provided by Bath and Body Works' P.R. people. Thanks to Sidnie for reviewing, I hope to have her back to give her take on other beauty products in the future!

Over the past few weeks I tested the C.O. Bigelow Mentha lip glosses in milkshake flavors, which come attractively packaged in old-school pharmaceutical. Similar to their line of lemon products, there are a series of milkshake flavors (Vanilla Malt, Strawberry Shake and Double Chocolate) combined with the classic C.O. Bigelow Mentha, the flavor that made them famous. Strawberry and mint might not sound like the most appealing combination, but who am I to turn down free beauty products? You could tell me it's mold-flavored, but slap in a pretty package and I'm all over it.

Over a couple of days, a
plethora of friends tried the lip glosses as they sat in my room or next to me in class (this is how Mono gets spread at women’s colleges). Their response was always the same: “This is for Meg’s blog” I would say (or whisper if we were indeed in class) and they would reply (or whisper) “Oooohh- I would totally buy this." Meg termed the Chocolate an “Andes Mint” and I would have to agree- it tastes so remarkably like chocolate that it made my mouth water and I’m convinced it could be used as a weight loss tool- enjoy chocolate without the pounds. The Vanilla Malt is also very tasty without being overpowering, and was tied with the chocolate for highest ratings. The Strawberry was my least favorite because it was a little too sweet (that fake berry flavor that they use in cosmetics rarely tastes like anything appetizing), but a few of my friends enjoyed it. The glosses are all really invigorating with the backdrop of mint. The consistency is not too sticky and I was happy to find that they don’t dry out into that dreaded winter crusty-lip gloss syndrome. The gloss is high-shine and colorless, so it can be worn on its own or on top of lipstick for an added punch at holiday parties. The lip gloss also doesn’t kiss off-on glasses or anything else, so have that cup of eggnog and then make bad decisions under some mistletoe without fear of losing your gloss (you may lose something else, though).

At $10, this is a great, inexpensive gift for a friend, or you could separate the trio for quasi-friends in combination with a sweet holiday card. Split them up for Jewish friends and have 3/8ths of the Hannukah nights accomplished! Again, this is a great stocking stuffer and an all-around crowd pleaser. I’m planning on buying this for my brother’s girlfriend who is sweet and trendy but who I don’t know that well- I think any gal would be happy to have these little lip glosses as a gift.

These products can now be found online and in stores through Bath and Body Works. I definitely recommend them as a special treat for deserving people in your life- I may even buy one for Meg! The scents and flavors are a fun way to combat the winter elements that make your skin and lips dry and are a gift that will ensure Santa has you in the “nice” list.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wish List Etiquette

I always feel a little uncomfortable when someone asks me what I'd like for Christmas. I'll usually say that there's nothing I really need, that I'd be happy with anything, etc, but when people insist, I'll try to think of a few things that I know I'd like. I do at least try to be cognizant about the person's financial situation, their closeness to me, and so on, but it's hard to come up with ideas.

I'm probably not the only one who feels a little selfish when I'm asked to make a wish list, but I find myself asking family members that same question every year. I love to search for unexpected items that just scream a friend or family member's name, but these items don't always fall into your lap. But that doesn't always happen, and at the end of the day you want to know that the recipient is receiving something they really love.

There's definitely a good and a bad way to go about making a wish list. The first rule is obviously that, unless someone has asked, don't send them one. They may have already gotten your present and will feel badly if it doesn't match any of the items you listed. It also sends the wrong message about your attitude toward gifts, that you expect and deserve something, when every gift should be treated as a special, unnecessary treat.

But what if someone (mom, grandma, boyfriend, brother, etc) asks for some suggestions? I think the best route is to stay vague, so that they don't feel pressure to buy one specific thing, which they might not like or may be out of their price range. When my aunt asked me what I'd like for Christmas, I said that I'd appreciate anything I can use when I get my first apartment after graduating in May. I know there are so many things I'll need, and it would be great to have something practical that reminds me of my aunt when I use it. By opening it up to the wide category of home stuff, I figured that she could find something within her budget and not feel too worried that she'd be getting something I wouldn't like or use.

If you didn't have a specific situation like mine, you could always mention something you're interested in. I was really into throwing wine and cheese parties for a while and one Christmas my family got me everything I needed for entertaining, which was great. A person might run the risk of purchasing something you already own, but let them take the initiative to ask for something more specific.

If someone wants more specific suggestions, be sure to make a list that includes things from a variety of price points, and items that are easily available (I usually will send a few links to sites where you can buy the items so that the person doesn't need to search all over for it). I always have a long list of books on my wish list at Amazon (full disclosure - I benefit if you shop at Amazon through links on my site), so I'll usually send a few links to those to family members who ask what I'd want, and books are great since the person can buy one or a few depending on how much they'd like to spend. If you've got a family member who's not very internet-savvy, listing the titles of the books you're interested in is a good idea, since they can always find them at a local bookstore.

I think it's also important to take the other person's interests in mind when you're making a wish list. When my sister mentioned that she's been looking for a new purse, I was so excited to start looking for one for her Christmas gift. Finding the right gift is difficult in itself, don't make it harder by asking for things the other person has no knowledge about or interest in.

I'm a big believer in giving charitable donations as gifts, and I think it's acceptable to ask for a charitable donation. I would give the person multiple options (other charities and regular items, in case they're uncomfortable with the organizations you listed) and would avoid listing any charities that might compromise the other person's values. Unless you know for sure that your mom supports the same candidate, has the same religious affiliation or feels strongly about a divisive social issue, don't request donations to these types of charities.

We live in such a materialistic culture that it's often easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we deserve expensive or lavish gifts if someone has the financial means to purchase pricey things. I was mildly disgusted to read about the rising trend of shoppers making wish lists at their favorite stores and then having the store contact loved ones to recommend that they purchase the items. I think Anna Post (Emily's great-great granddaughter) is spot-on when she said, "A gift should be about the relationship between the giver and the receiver. When you have a middleman like that, it becomes a business transaction."

I don't think anyone has the right to ever be angry or disappointed if they receive something other than what they requested on a wish list. This is a petty, selfish, materialistic attitude that totally goes against the real meaning of the holiday. Be grateful for anything you receive, don't worry too much about searching for that "perfect gift" and let the holidays be about spending time with your loved ones and expressing gratitude for having them in your life.

What are your thoughts on wish lists? Are they tacky or necessary?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Saturday Links

The Fug Girls give their $.02 on the Jennifer Love Hewitt "cellulite scandal" and I couldn't agree more with their observations.

The New York Times
reports about hairdressers who'd rather not hear about a client's personal life while they work. If you pay Sally Hershberger $800 for a cut, don't expect her to sympathize with your guy problems, “They’re lucky if they get me to speak at all.”

Capitol Hill Barbie
gives Lancome's Hypnotique mascara a try, with less than impressive results.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Finds: Holiday Cards 2007

One of my favorite holiday traditions is buying holiday cards to send to family and friends. I've spoken before about my love for stationery, and in recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of paper designers to choose from. Last weekend I was browsing Urban Outfitters when I came across a set of beautiful cards by the Philadelphia-based letterpress design studio Bird and Banner. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find an image of the cards online, but they were unlike any holiday card I'd seen and I bought a few boxes on the spot. If you love artsy holiday cards but don't have a great stationary store nearby, there are a number of talented designers whose work is available online. Broadway Paper is a fantastic resource for better-known printers, and if you want something that's really one of a kind, check out Etsy.

Here are a few of my favorite holiday cards:

Snow & Graham Pine Cones Cards, $14

Style Press Hanukkah Presents Cards, $16

Broadway Paper Snowman Cards, $12

Elum Designs Hang a Star Cards, $12

Broadway Paper Peaceful Bird Cards, $15

Snow & Graham Birch Cards, $14

Broadway Paper Ornament Joy Cards, $15

Snow & Graham Partridge Cards, $14

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dressing For Sell Day

A few days ago I received the following e-mail from my friend Eliza, who just received a job offer from a fantastic economic consulting company:

Hi, my fashion-conscious friend!

I had a question that I need your help with. I'm going to visit the company that offered me a job tomorrow for a "Sell Day." I'll get a tour of the office, meet a few somewhat senior people, go out to lunch with a bunch of the more junior people, and then briefly meet with HR.
So, my question for you is what style of dress should I wear--a suit? Dressy business casual? I emailed someone in HR, but she never got back to me. Also factoring into this decision is that they told me to wear business casual to my second-round interview with them (weird, right?). Thanks for your help! You are a life saver!


My first question for you is how the people at the company normally dress, which I'm sure you observed during your interview. I would mimic whatever level of dressiness they had (if a suit is de rigeur, wear a suit, etc). It can be difficult if people at various levels or departments dress differently, but a good rule is to mimic the most senior people you met. That usually means leaning a little on the formal side, since execs tend to be more buttoned-up than junior level employees. You can always take off a jacket for the lunch with the younger people, switching over to business casual mode.

My instinct tells me that your company is probably business casual, especially since that's what they asked you to wear for your second round of interviews. Because consulting isn't a "creative" industry, I'd wear a conservative combo of black pencil skirt or dress pants with a colored sweater or button-down shirt. Closed-toe heels are a must and don't forget to wear hose and accessories that match. Don't wear anything too funky or fashion-forward.

Luckily, you have the job, so it's not like your outfit will make or break this meeting, but you of course still want to look professional and put-together. And importantly, your look should convey that you're a good fit for the company.

I'm jealous that you're getting wined and dined while the rest of us slave away at school, I hope you have a great time!

Anyone else have tips for Eliza for dressing for a "Sell Day" event?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Politics of Pampering

It's strange to step back and think about how the practice of paying others to massage, wax, wrap and groom our naked bodies has become so commonplace. A recent New York Magazine cover story by one of my favorite writers, Emily Nussbaum, explores the explosion of spas and salons, our shifting ideas about beauty, grooming and privacy, as well as the often ignored hardships of salon workers, who perform taxing physical and emotional labor every day.

She writes that, "twenty years ago, salons were a treat for the idle rich or for women playacting that role for a day. While a subset of socialites were groomed by hired help, for most other women—working women, stay-at-home mothers, young girls—a massage was an indulgence, a facial a luxury, a manicure the type of thing you did at home." Now these procedures are viewed as necessities for women who want to look well-groomed and put-together. Women's magazines (particularly bridal magazines) prescribe spa treatments as a solution to even the most mild beauty problems, while women who don't have weekly manicure and pedicure treatments are called out by other women for looking "unprofessional."

But as much as it's become the norm, there is still something disconcerting about the power relationships implicit in these treatments. A large percentage of salon workers (particularly in nail salons in major American cities) are minorities, many recent immigrants without strong English. And you're paying them to provide a service that traditionally has been exchanged between female friends, sisters or mothers and daughters. As teenagers, many of us spent our sleepovers painting each others nails or applying home facials, bonding together through the escapism of beauty treatments. Once we reach our 20's, those practices become commercialized, and spending time with a friend often means going to a salon and having someone else paint your nails while you chat.

As Nussbaum says, "The first time I got a pedicure, I felt something similar: physical vulnerability, mingled with a lurid awareness of power—an Asian woman who didn’t speak English was kneeling in front of me, washing my feet. It felt distinctly slave and master. But that’s only true the first time you have a treatment like this. Pay once, twice, three times, and the aura of exploitation dissolves..." The same thing occurs for the women performing the services: over time the act of washing another woman's feet or waxing her pubic hair stops feeling demeaning and becomes normal.

Salon and spa workers must navigate this complex world of emotional etiquette, since they're expected to provide this big performance of warmth, care and concern, a kind of paid friend. A sociology professor quoted in the article talks about his theory that more women are getting spa treatments because they're looking for an emotional and physical connection that's lacking in their lives and want to be touched and comforted. A recent study cited in article found that the more expensive the spa or salon, the more likely it was that the clientele demanded "pampering" and other emotional services.

Like a therapist, a manicurist or facialist is someone you can spill all your secrets to, without worry that they'll be shared with others. You can expect that she'll listen, express support and refrain from criticizing. Most women would never consider sharing this kind of personal information outside of the safe confines of the salon, and since class differences make it unlikely that you'll run into your confidante outside of the spa setting, it's unlikely that you'll ever interact with this person when they're not massaging or waxing you.

I'm certainly not here to pass judgment on anyone who participates in this industry. I love getting the occasional massage, and I like to keep my toenails painted in the warmer months. But I think it's interesting to step back and look at these admittedly strange practices that have become so commonplace.

We engage in this kind of alternative universe when we step into a spa, where everyone acts as if they're old friends who share a history and exchange secrets (at least the client is sharing secrets, it would be "unprofessional" for the worker to state their true feelings about their work). We feel comfortable exposing ourselves physically and emotionally for a person who we'd never consider spending time with outside of this environment. And we try to forget the fact that the person rubbing our feet or painting our nails is doing it out of economic necessity, that their deep concern for our personal lives and physical comfort is nothing more than part of the job.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Product Review: C.O. Bigelow Lemon Collection

I was recently contacted by a P.R. company about trying a few holiday-themed products from Bath and Body Works, and my interest was piqued when they mentioned that C.O. Bigelow would be in the mix. The winter air has been doing all kinds of crazy things to my skin lately, making it impossible to use anything but prescription creams, so I passed on the products to my friend Sidnie to try. Without further ado, I present her beauty blogging debut.

Meg is a kind and thoughtful friend; she buys me fruit jerky, listens to my lamentations about the mystery of men, and gives me useful fashion advice. Imagine my joy when she upped the ante considerably and asked if I would test some products for her. The perks just keep on coming.
For a girl who considers it a splurge to move from the Wet N’ Wild section of CVS to the more “upscale” drugstore brands (Meg recently persuaded me to move to the Olay cleansing cloths because I resembled a raccoon from leftover eye makeup) I jumped at the offer to test out a few C.O. Bigelow products, a beauty brand with a fantastic reputation that I'd never tried.

Meg asked me to try the Bigelow Lemon Blends Hand Treatment and Hand Soap, which promise to be the ULTIMATE (the all-caps was their choice, not mine) in hand care. The hand care regiment promised to leave my hands feeling “renewed, soft and supple” and consist of a “Moisture-Rich” and “Skin-Brightening Formula”. The Lemon Blends come in a variety of combination scents, but I tried Lemon and Pomegranate. I think this combination is perfect for the winter- when you see a variety of lotions and soaps that come in the same holiday variety, like “cranberry”, “pine”, the always nauseating “sugar cookie” and innocuous “winter snow” and “angel kisses” (do those things have a scent?) this seems like a refreshing break from the ordinary for the holiday season especially.

I used the soap right before bed and then dutifully slathered on the lotion, which is pretty light. I prefer the scent of the soap to the lotion; the later smells a little like a Sweet Tart when you first put it on, but the scent quickly fades to a less abrasive and more lightly-sweet scent. I have really dry skin, especially on my hands- by no means “supple”- I also have an oral fixation that could rival anything Freud diagnosed and chew my nails to the quick. I did notice a small difference in the look and feel of my hands, but it certainly wasn't heavy enough to make a real dent in my dryness. In my experience, products that are marketed for their scent rarely outperform the basic, boring Curel and Olay moisturizers.

The skin “brighteners” were not plainly noticeably- I couldn’t have caused a car crash by waving or anything- but I was less plagued by alligator skin after slathering it on. For truly troubled winter skin like mine, one would have to use some sort of hard-core salve, but these products certainly made a perceptible difference and more than anything they are a nice treat.

I am also totally guilty of conspicuous consumerism- the simply chic bottles stamped with “Bigelow” reminiscent of old-fashioned apothecary jars were always a little joy to see peeking out of my cubby in our communal bathroom. They’d be a wonderful stocking stuffer- I immediately thought of my mother who always does dishes by hand- the soap alone would be great to keep next to a kitchen or bathroom sink. They’d also be a really nice hostess gifts- reserved for those you are truly grateful for or are truly trying to impress.

One great thing is that you no longer have to travel to New York to get C.O. Bigelow products, since Bath and Body Works is stocking a lot of their collections. These are a big step up from the regular scented B&BW lines, and it's worth checking out next time you're doing some holiday shopping at the mall.

Next week I'm going to finish my stint as guest poster by reviewing the C.O. Bigelow Soda Fountain Mini Mentha Lip Shine Trio, so be sure to check back!

Monday, December 03, 2007

E-Mail or Paper Thank You Notes?

If I had to write a list of my favorite things in the world, thank you notes would probably rank pretty high. I love receiving them and writing them, saving the thank you notes others have written me and collecting different types of stationery and then deciding which design best matches the person I'm writing to. Nothing beats opening your mailbox and finding a beautiful, thoughtfully hand-written note on top of your bills and junk mail. It's a simple gesture that can really brighten a day.

But in a world where high-speed internet sets the pace of things, sometimes it's hard to decide whether to send an e-mail or paper thank you note. If I'm thanking a friend or family member for a gift or their help with something, I'll always go with the paper note, since receiving it a few days later isn't a big deal. Recently though I've been in a few situations where I thought it was more important that the recipient receive the thank you ASAP, and sent an e-mail instead.

Two events in the last week stand out, and I was hoping you guys could offer some advice as to how you'd handle these situations. A few days ago I spoke on the phone with a very successful alumna from my college who I'd contacted to discuss careers. She was generous enough to take an hour out of her very busy day to talk about her experiences and give me advice. Up until our phone call, we'd communicated through e-mail, and I was afraid that if I didn't send a thank you note to her within the next day, she'd assume I wasn't going to write her one, and may be less inclined to pass along my resume or talk to me more in the future, even if she did receive a physical card in 3-5 days.

Then yesterday I had a job interview and decided to e-mail my interviewers thank you notes that night. I figured that they were probably going to decide on my application in the next day or two and that I should take advantage of any extra boost a thank you note would get me.

In both cases, I considered sending physical cards in addition to the e-mails, but since my e-mail thank yous were fairly long and encompassed just about everything I wanted to say, I thought it would be superfluous to follow up with a card.

What do you usually do to thank someone? What about in professional situations?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

Fashion writer and blogger Linda Grant has a very interesting piece in The Telegraph about iconic designer Jeanne Lanvin.

Think a lot of today's ads are offensive? The Daily Mail has a great feature on misogynist ads from the classic age of advertising.

The Beauty Brains
provides scientific backup for the efficacy my favorite moisturizing product ever: Olay's In-Shower Body Lotion.

The New York Times
reports that nostalgia for the U.S.S.R. is the hot trend in Russian fashion.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Finds: Weather Appropriate Going-Out Shoes

Dear Meg,

I'm a college girl in Indiana, and with winter fast approaching, I'm on the lookout for a pair of cute "going out" shoes. I already have a pair of brown leather boots, which are great for really wet or snowy days, but I'd really like something more fun and dressy, without being totally inappropriate for the weather. Any suggestions?



Good question, Alyse! I always have a hard time walking the fine line between being fashionable and dressing appropriately for the weather. You obviously want to stick to closed-toe shoes, preferably with a sturdy heel (sky-high stilettos+icy sidewalk=accident waiting to happen) and made of a water-resistant material. My go-to shoe in wet weather is a pair of bright yellow patent leather platforms (the heel is only an inch or so high). Stay away from soft leathers and suedes, which will stain, and be on the lookout for any shoe with a textured or rubbery base, which will help you keep your balance on wet pavement.

Here are a few of my favorite pairs for under $100:

Patent Anna Wedge, from Urban Outfitters, $38

BP 'Lavender' Leather Pump, from Nordstrom, $59.95

Franco Satro 'Card' Patent Leather Flat, from Nordstrom, $78.95

Franco Sarto 'Gamble' Pump, from Nordstrom, $89.95

BP. 'Catty' Patent Leather Flat, from Nordstrom, $59.95

Naturalizer 'Tres Chic' Pump, from Nordstrom, $74.95

BCBGirls 'Titta' Patent Leather Pump, from Nordstrom, $97.95

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reader Question: Do Aspirin Masks Work?

Hi Meg, Love your blog! I have been reading a lot today about the benefits of aspirin face masks. I had never even heard of an aspirin mask until about 2 hours ago! The benefits most people seem to experience from weekly use of an aspirin mask are almost too good to be true. Just wondering what your thoughts are on aspirin masks. Have you ever (or would you ever) try one? Thanks a lot, Becky

Hi Rebecca! Your e-mail made me nostalgic, as it reminded me of a stage I went through a couple years back where I was obsessed with aspirin masks. It all began when I got hooked on the Makeup Alley skincare message board, which is a fabulous resource for discussing products, but also very addictive. The problem with highly specific message boards is that there's a group mentality that forms, and when everyone on the board is raving about some product or trend, you start to feel like you're the only person in the world who's not in on the action.

The aspirin mask was the first trend I got sucked into and for a few months I was using them 3-5 times a week (far more than anyone probably should). I think that they are an effective spot treatment for acne (do NOT try one if you have dry or normal skin, it'll dry you out) and they did make my skin look smooth and "glowy," which was nice. The effect is pretty short-lived though. It was great to put one on before I went out for the evening, but by the morning my skin looked normal again.

Back to the issue of efficacy... aspirin is made out of salicylic acid (aka BHA or beta hydroxy acid), the same chemical used in many drugstore and prescription acne products. Salicylic acid works by exfoliating the cells of the epidermis, which is great for clearing out a whitehead or blackhead (my zits definitely cleared up faster than usual when I used it). It also supposedly helps improve the appearance of wrinkles and mild pigmentation in skin. You can learn more about BHA here.

The downside is that it's very drying, and no matter how serious your acne is, when you strip your skin of its natural oils, it overcompensates by producing more. I used a ton of different acne products when I was younger, but the only thing that made a real difference was by using a gentle facewash, a moisturizer with sunscreen and two prescription strength products (Retin-A Micro and Duac). Ironically, using a non-comedogenic moisturizer has really been the key to my skin improvement.

If you're going to use an aspirin mask, I recommend not using it more than once a week or so. You could also just use it as a spot treatment. I've read a lot of reviews online by people who say they use it daily, but that seems really excessive to me, and it certainly dried my skin out when I did that.

To make an aspirin mask, crush up UNCOATED aspirin in a tiny bit of water to create a paste. I liked to add a squirt of Cetaphil (or another gentle cleanser) to prevent the mask from flaking or falling off. Make sure it's not too watery and apply it to your face, being careful to avoid the area around your nostrils. When the mask dries you can end up inhaling little bits of aspirin and that isn't good for you (I got headaches a couple times from having the mask on for too long). After 5-10 minutes, get your hands wet and gently massage the mask to exfoliate and then wash it off (again, being careful not to get anything in your mouth or nose). Keep in mind that you will look ridiculous while this mask is on (it's very crusty and weird looking and I know I freaked out a number of my hallmates when I walked back and forth to the bathroom with it on).

I eventually gave up on the aspirin masks because I was lazy and embarrassed to look like I had wet cement on my face all the time. Also, crushing the aspirin and getting powder all over my room made me feel like I was some kind of drug dealer. If you've got acne-prone skin that isn't sensitive, I'd recommend giving it a try sometime to see if you like it. It's also just about the cheapest mask you'll ever use, and often more effective than the pricey brands.

Has anyone else tried the aspirin mask? Love it or hate it?