Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

Perfumista Robin at Now Smell This gives the lowdown on scoring free perfume samples.

Kathryn at The Budget Fashionista has the scoop on Old Navy's decision to stop offering a plus size line in stores and online. The debate among the commenters is fascinating.

Beauty Addict Kristen Kelly gushes over Shiseido's Hydro-Powder eye shadows.

And finally, The Beauty Brains has some great suggestions for fixing broken beauty products.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Finds: Dream Dresses

People deal with stress in many different ways. Some drink, some smoke, some exercise, others self-medicate. There have to be a few people who even use those useless stress ball things that I find work best when thrown at the head of the person annoying you. But when I get stressed out, I browse dresses online. Just feelin' a little down? I look at cute, casual sundresses and imagine myself looking fab at some chic Hamptons beach party. But on those days when I'm really ready to throw in the towel, I go for the heavy stuff- Bergdorf, Saks and Neiman's evening wear collections.

What is the likelihood that I will ever be able to afford this to-die-for Carmen Marc Valvo satin gown (retail: $264o), let alone have an opportunity to wear it? Chances are slim, but that doesn't keep me from imagining how I would feel walking into a room in it.

One of the reasons I created this blog was because I was fed up with reading fashion blogs that never featured clothes that I could afford. I make a conscious effort to feature fashionable, affordable and widely available clothes and accessories as much as I can. But there's a reason that "aspiration" has sold millions of fashion magazines, and propelled many high fashion blogs into popularity. I think that secretly, as practical and down to earth as we might view ourselves, we all fantasize about wearing incredibly beautiful, impractical, ridiculously expensive (seriously, how many families could be fed on $2640?) clothes. So for this week's Friday Finds, I'm asking you to let me indulge in a little fantasizing of my own. Here are a few things that I would pick up (or better yet, ask my two assistants to pick up) if I had an unlimited amount of cash.

This $8,990 Oscar de la Renta silk ball gown is what I'd wear to the annual Brooklyn Botanical Gardens fundraising gala. The gardens are one of my favorite places on earth, and I can only imagine that a black tie party there would be one of the few venues good enough for a gown like this.

This little $750 Tory Burch number that would look incredible for my 22nd birthday party (in my perfect world I'd also have the legs for this skirt).

Jake Gyllenhaal just called and he needs a date for the Oscars next weekend... am I free? I think I can make it if I get to wear this sophisticated Marc Bouwer gown.

At $450, I definitely wouldn't want to spill any drinks on this bright pink Badgley Mischka, but it works perfectly for a night on the town with my girlfriends.

I'm meeting my BFF Tim Gunn for our weekly lunch/gabfest at Per Se, gotta look elegant and grown up, but that shouldn't be a problem in this $700 Valentino Red dress.

In my dream job, I'd wear this Shalini sheath to work every day. For $2,200, I'd better get a lot of use out of it!

I had a tough time coming up with places to wear these dresses, mainly because I don't even know where someone with enough money to buy these clothes would wear them. Fundraisers, fancy parties and red carpet events every weekend? Sounds like fun, but it's not the life I'd like to live. For now, I'm content with simply fantasizing about the person I'd be in these clothes.

What is your "dream" outfit and where would you wear it?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Deodorant Dilemma

Walk through any drugstore and you'll find hundreds of different deodorants touting claims like "strong enough for a man" and "completely invisible" and promising to make your armpits smell and feel "Powder Fresh!" Each brand promises something new and different, but for some reason, they all work exactly the same way and never live up to their promises. Sure, you might be able to come across something that doesn't leave white marks, but it won't keep you from sweating, or you can find a deodorant with a lovely scent but it gets all over your clothes. When you consider what advances we've made in other areas of personal hygiene technology, one has to wonder why no one has been able to create a deodorant/antiperspirant that actually does what it's supposed to.

There are all kinds of prescription strength antiperspirants, and some people pay $1000 to get their armpits injected with Botox to stop sweating altogether, but there has to be something that those of us who are prone to sweating can do that doesn't require such desperate measures. I tend to sweat a lot when I get nervous, which especially problematic because this often occurs during moments when I'm trying my hardest to give a good impression (first dates, job interviews, public speaking, etc). And of course, fearing that someone's going to notice that you're sweating only makes you sweat more, and a terrible cycle has begun.

I tried men's antiperspirants, hoping that the added strength would help, but I ended up only smelling like "Mountain Rush" all day, with no decrease in sweat production. Eventually I brought this up to my doctor, and he suggested that I try Certain Dri, which is prescription strength but available over the counter. There is nothing sexy about this product, but it does what very few others do, which is actually work. You swipe it on at night (using just a little bit, and never after shaving because it will sting) and for the next day your armpits barely sweat. It's kind of mindboggling, to be honest. I'll go to the gym, hit the treadmill for an hour, and while my hair, sports bra and shirt are soaked, my armpits are still totally dry.

It doesn't wash off in the shower, and claims to work for 84 hours in a row, though I try to put it on every night (even when I forget for a couple days, the effects usually still lasts). It's also a liquid, so there's no residue on your body or your clothes. The only downside to the product is that it isn't a deodorant, meaning that your armpits will still smell a bit even if you're not sweating. So you have to use two products (one at night, one in the morning), but this is not a bad tradeoff for never having sweat stains again.

Certain Dri is available at most drugstores in the deodorant aisle, and is available online for $5.99.

Anyone else have recommendations for a deodorant/antiperspirant that works well? How about one that doesn't leave white marks? I still have yet to find a product that doesn't get on clothes at all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Shear" Camp

Location: Bravo TV headquarters, Summer 2006

Executive #1: "Project Runway put us on the map. Top Chef and Top Design were decent enough to keep people watching. Now how else can we convince educated, urban, well-off women and gay men to watch yet another reality show? What has the glamor and pizazz of fashion, gourmet food and interior design?"

Executive #2: "Um.. women and gays both like pretty hair and spending time at salons? What about a reality show for hairstylists?"

Executive #3: "YES! They will create hair that will rival the drama of an Austen Scarlett wedding gown. We'll show America that toilet paper rolls and pipe cleaners aren't just for making clothes, they can make beautiful hair sculptures!"

End scene.

And a television show was born...

To be honest, when I first heard about the new show "Shear Genius," I laughed out loud. It seemed like Bravo was really scraping the bottom of the barrel... I mean, a hairstyling competition? Why not just ditch the themes, throw 12 outrageous, flamboyant characters in a room and let them duke it out? Honestly, watching people cut, curl and dye hair isn't exactly entertaining.

But when I saw that iTunes was offering the first episode for free, I had to download and check it out (if you're really anal about spoilers, you probably don't want to read on).

Following in the footsteps of Heidi Klum, Padma Lakshmi and Todd Oldham is host Jaclyn Smith, who, other than being blessed with fantastic hair genes, seems to have no particular qualifications for this job. During the judging, she does add a normal woman's perspective, which is refreshing (the other regular judges are celeb hairstylist Sally Hershberger, famous for the Meg Ryan shag, and Michael Carl, fashion director for Allure magazine, and both definitely know their stuff), but she doesn't seem to know more about hair than any normal person.

The format follows that of Top Chef, where there's a mini challenge in the beginning, the winner of which gets some kind of benefit in the main challenge. The first "short cut" challenge was hilarious to watch. The stylists were asked to create a "signature style," the twist being that they had to cut mannequin hair. After much sighing, whining and moaning, there were 8 identical, hideously angled cuts that would never be seen on a real person (we're talking hair that's 5 inches longer on one side, with a giant piece hanging over the face) and 4 normal, pretty wearable styles.

Oh, and there's a Tim Gunn-like figure who gives advice to the contestants, a Danish dude named Rene Fris. He comes off as totally boring, but he looks vaguely like a younger, hotter, gayer version of Peter Gallagher (aka Sandy Cohen of The O.C.), and imagining Sandy flitting around the salon is enough to keep me interested in his scenes.

Already, they had introduced a number of larger than life characters, most notably evil Frenchman Paul-Jean, head bitch Tabatha and ghetto fabulous Dr. Boogie. When asked why she liked her job, one girl burst into tears while discussing her passion for hair... it was hilarious. It was clear that these people knew what kind of exposure they'd be getting from the show and wanted to milk it for all it's worth. Unfortunately, no one felt as real or likable as a Jay McCaroll or Austin Scarlett or Santino Rice (who you couldn't help but love to hate), though hopefully later in the season more engaging characters will emerge.

By this point I was getting kind of bored, both with the annoying contestants and their obnoxious "LOOK AT ME, I'M SO HIP AND EDGY" styles. But lo and behold, Bravo had a new trick up their sleeve that entertained me to no end.

Okay, get this... at the end of each mini-challenge, they RANK the people in order of who did the best job, and your rank determined who got to pick the models for the big challenge. As if reality TV wasn't intense and competitive enough, this infuriated people. The awkwardness! The brutal honesty! The jealousy-inducement! This is what great TV is all about.

Finally they got to the main challenge, which was to create "hair art" that incorporated arts and crafts materials from Michael's. This was a ridiculous concept, but I was glad that I wouldn't just be seeing variations on one style or cut. As Project Runway has taught us, often the silliest challenges (use trash to create couture!) are the most entertaining, even if most people don't "get" it.

So what did these stylists come up with, once armed with an arsenal of pipecleaners, feather boas, silk flowers and rhinestones? Take a look:

This is like the physical representation of the bridezilla. I think that people sometimes confuse throwing lots of random materials together with being creative, and that's definitely the case here.
This was my personal favorite. It had a funky, island vibe, and the soft, beautiful hair contrasted nicely with the ribbons and wooden balls. I can see a really cool, confident woman pulling this off in real life.
The judges just about threw up when this model walked down the runway. To top it off, the hairstylist, Paul-Jean, was all "F.U. judges! You're wrong and this is beautiful!" Luckily, he was kicked off (kudos to Bravo, because not only would he have caused the most drama, but you know that he'd also have the most outrageous styles each week, and we all know that drama=ratings).
This was the winning design (ironically, it was by Tabatha, who placed last in the mini-challenge). She made a coherent sculpture out of her materials, and the similarity between the texture and color of the hair and the feathers was striking and beautiful. I could imagine this on a Fashion Week runway.

This is representative of most of the styles in the middle range: they were SO FREAKING LITERAL. Honestly, if you asked a group of 5th graders to make hair art, this is what they'd come up with.
I don't want to ruin the surprise, but when this model reached the end of the runway, she pulled a little string that popped open the box, propelling glitter into the air. You really can't get any more gimmicky than that.

The Allure editor judge made a fantastic comment after everyone finished showing, "There's a huge difference between ugly and edgy." I think that sums up the problem with the show's contestants, most of whom have spent years working with regular people, creating normal hairstyles, and are in over their heads when asked to do something so creative and conceptual. I'm going to keep watching to find out what happens, if only because I'm a sucker for this kind of over the top, campy entertainment, but I'll be counting down the months until Project Runway is back on.

Has anyone else watched the first episode? If not, you can catch it tonight at 9 (the new ep premieres at 10) or download it for free on iTunes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sheer at School?

I picked up the phone. It was my mom.

"Have you responded yet to that person who commented asking whether a sheer black blouse was appropriate for a teacher to wear to work?"

I thought back to all the comments I'd saved to respond to in later posts but hadn't gotten to yet. I pulled up the comment:

I work in a public school, directly with the students, so I have to abide by the school dress code. One of the rules is that no tank tops are allowed.

But, one of my favorite things to wear is my black tank top under a sheer, black blouse. It's very comfortable and I personally think it looks pretty respectable, not too casual or anything. I cannot wear tanks without a bra (even the kind with the built-in bras), so the bra straps do show a bit, but I wear a black bra so it's not really noticeable.

My question is, do you think that wearing a tank top under a see-through blouse would violate the school rule or just in general make me look unprofessional?

I thought about it and responded, "No, not yet, but I think I know what I'm going to say. I think a dark, sheer blouse is appropriate if it's not sheer all over and isn't overtly sexy, you know, like one of those more Victorian-inspired blouses..."

She cut me off. "Meg. Sheer=sexy and that is NEVER acceptable for someone working at a school. Anyone over 25 will agree with me on that, and the parents of those kids are closer to my age than yours."

"I don't know Mom, I think you can make it work, presuming you're fully covered... there are a lot of ways that you could make normally unsexy clothes sexy (a shirt or blouse that shows a bit too much cleavage, a pencil skirt that's very tight), and I think it goes the other way as well."

"You've never been in a PTO, you don't know how those women talk."

"Point taken Mom, but I'm the one with a fashion and etiquette blog, not you. Thank you for your unsolicited advice, I love you, we'll talk later."

My Mom did have a point- these days you can get into a lot of trouble for being perceived as dressing provocatively around children or teens. And without seeing the blouse in question, I can't say whether it would be appropriate or not- I think it depends on the piece and what you pair it with. Also, it's not just how much skin you're showing, but how much of your body is being shown off (I don't think it would be appropriate to wear a tank top/sheer blouse combo if you had large breasts, for instance). But as I said before, if you can find a piece that doesn't show much skin, isn't too tight fitting and has more of an old-fashioned, buttoned up vibe, I think it would be okay. Here are a few pieces that I think would be acceptable to pair with a modest pair of dress pants or a skirt:

If you've got something that you want to wear to work but are unsure if it's appropriate, why not bring it in (along with an extra change of clothes) and before school starts, ask a co-worker or two whether they think it's okay. If the consensus is that it doesn't fly, just change into your other shirt. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

What do you guys think?

Monday, April 16, 2007

This is so small, but...

My thoughts go out to the families and friends of the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting today. As a college student, I can't imagine encountering such a thing on a regular Monday morning of classes... it just really hits home that something like this can happen on any campus. It's been incredibly upsetting to hear the stories of the hundreds of students who experienced this today. I'm so sorry for your trauma and loss.

Back in Business!

Hello All!

Sorry about that mini-vacation; it was a tough decision whether I should continue blogging during my trip, but in the end I'm glad I was able to focus on having fun and not constantly worrying about updating and writing posts. But I'll be back to regular posting tomorrow, and I've got a lot of great stuff planned for the next couple of weeks.

A few highlights of my trip:

Okay, so I picked what was probably the worst weekend weather-wise to visit Montreal. As anyone living in New England/Eastern Canada knows, there was this storm that kind of made driving and spending any time outside nearly impossible. The weather definitely hindered our ability to do and see all the things we'd planned, but we made the most of it and did what we could. Mainly, that meant going out to eat.

I'm not sure if this is true of Canada as a whole, but the standards for food are WAY higher in Montreal than they are in New York, and any other U.S. city I've ever spent time in. Being a kind of foodie in training, I did a lot of research beforehand and tried to pick the best restaurants within a budget. I had the best meal of at Chez L'Epicier, a beautiful restaurant in Old Montreal that came very highly recommended by posters on Chowhound. The food was unbelievably fresh, with gorgeous presentation and really creative flavor combinations. It was the kind of transporting experience where you're so focused on what you're eating that you stop talking and seem to forget where you are and who you're with because you're almost dumbstruck by how delicious your food is.

After we finished I went up to the maitre d' and (very politely) asked whether it would be possible if I could have an extra menu to take home, because I wanted to always remember what I ate and what a terrific experience we had. She said something in French, ran into the kitchen, and returned a minute later with a copy of the menu signed by the chef. I felt like such a nerd, but this made me really happy.

The other really special meal we ate was at Verses, the restaurant of the Hotel Nelligan, a really chic boutique hotel also in Old Montreal. The food wasn't nearly as creative or beautifully presented, but it was still one of the top 5 meals I've ever eaten. The real highlight was the dessert, a course that I normally enjoy but one that's rarely the best part of the meal. I ordered the pastry chef's special: a blood orange panna cotta with aged balsamic vinegar drenched strawberries and a piece of pistachio brittle. It was unlike any dessert I've ever eaten, so wonderfully light yet super flavorful. Andrew ordered the half-baked chocolate cake with Guinness (yes, like the beer) ice cream. After finishing, he declared that driving 7 hours in the pouring rain/sleet/snow was worth it, if only because of this dessert.

But it wasn't just the fancy restaurants that had good food, it was the regular sandwich joints and bakeries and tiny ethnic takeout places that had high quality food as well. If you're a fan of Middle Eastern food, you'll be happy to know that Montreal has a shawarma joint on just about every corner. The afternoon we drove in we were cold, wet and tired and wanted a quick, easy dinner to hold us over. A few blocks from our hotel (a nice hotel for a very reasonable price, by the way) was Boustan, where I downed chicken shawarma sandwiches, which they stuff with this spicy cole slaw, garlic sauce, onions and veggies and then grill until it's lightly charred and crispy on the outside and warm and gooey inside. So cheap, so filling, so good.

And since I'm a huge fan of public markets, we also visited the Jean-Talon market, the city's largest. I went from vendor to vendor, noshing my way through the place (I can't think of a better way to spend a cold afternoon). Here's a picture of me in front of one of the fruit vendors:
This was right after I polished off the yummiest swiss, ham and apple crepe, which was smothered in butter and went perfectly with some fresh squeezed apple cider. Mmm...

One other cool thing about Montreal is that people seem to dress better in general. I don't mean more fashionably, necessarily, but both nights it was awesome to be in restaurants where everyone looked like they made an effort to look put together, as a way of showing respect for the nice restaurant, the staff and the other diners. I was reminded of the second best meal I ever ate (and by far the most expensive) at Babbo in New York, which I spent months looking forward to and was really disappointed to be surrounded by people wearing old jeans and sweatshirts, when it was such a big, special event for me. Even dressed casually, the people in Montreal didn't look sloppy, and it was just a cool thing to see.

My boyfriend is convinced that people in Montreal (and again, possibly Canada in general) are more attractive than New Yorkers/Americans, but I think it's because people are overall in much better shape (this could be a direct result of prioritizing good eating, walking through those hilly streets and smoking like chimneys) and because they dress better. And a lot of young people pulled off that skinny, artsy, European bohemian look really well that tends to look kind of lame on a lot of the college students I see in the U.S.

I know it sounds like all I did was eat for 3 days straight, but that's only partly true. We were able to explore downtown and Old Montreal, check out the McGill campus and a little of Mont Royal, visit the Biodome (I don't care if the average age of visitors was 9, this place rocked) and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as the Beaux Arts Museum. The weather wasn't nice enough to go out at night, so instead we curled up in the hotel and watched DVD's of Season One of House, which I'm just getting into. Pretty good so far.

One final thing- I got a chance to check my e-mail on Thursday night and thanks to your comments, I realized that I had been quoted in that day's New York Times style section, in an article on Lancome's Proenza Pink lipstick. It was absolutely surreal to see my quote in the New York Times, a paper I read every single day, and it's something I'll never forget. I was a little annoyed that the reporter didn't bother to write the full names and addresses of the blogs mentioned in the article, or link to the sites on the NYTimes website, but of course it's still totally fantastic to be quoted at all. You can read the article here.

Anyway, I spent 8 hours driving yesterday (Montreal to Boston, dropped off boyfriend, drove back to school) and I'm pretty much exhausted. Tomorrow I'll be back to all that beauty, fashion and pop culture craziness, so check back soon!