Saturday, June 09, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

Cathy Horyn, Fashion Critic for the New York Times discusses the annual CFDA awards on her blog On The Runway.

If you're more interested in who wore what to the CFDA's check out Melanie's roundup from Platinum Blonde Life.

The Beauty Brains warns that the "organic" label on beauty products is often meaningless.

The Budget Fashionista
discusses how clothing stores mark-up various products to maximize profits. The original article from New York Magazine is fascinating, and you can read it here.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Finds: Miniskirts

The miniskirt is perhaps the most dangerous article of clothing due to its inherent sexiness. Poor fit, wrong length or pairing with a too-tight top or too-high heels and you look like you belong on "Flavor of Love." Inspired by the latest incarnation of this show, "Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School," my latest bad TV obsession, today's post will cover the 10 commandments of miniskirts.

Commandment 1: Check Thy Fit
When shopping for a mini, make sure that you can walk, sit, bend down and move comfortably in it without fear of showing your butt. It might look great when you're standing still, but if you find yourself pulling at it every time you take a step or sit down, you'll want a longer, looser skirt.

Commandment 2: Thou Shall Pair Tight With Loose
If your skirt is fairly fitted to your body, like the one below, you'll want to pair it with a longer, more billowy top, like this or this.

Proenza Schouler Dobby Stripe Miniskirt, Target, $12.49

The inverse goes for a less fitted skirt, like this one. By balancing tight with loose, you draw attention to one part of your body, but without looking desperate for attention.

Patrick Robinson Paperbag Waist Skirt, Target, $29.99

Commandment 3: Be Conscious of Thine Positioning
If you're the type of person who is used to wearing pants and sitting with your legs apart, you might find yourself exposing more than you'd hoped when you put on that mini. When sitting down, crossing legs or getting in and out of cars, it's especially important to make sure your legs stay together. And it's always a good bet to wear fairly conservative underwear with a mini, just in case (despite what Britney, Lindsay and friends may say, underwear is not optional).

Commandment 4: Be Not Afraid of Leggings
A lot of women who are self-conscious about their thighs may be afraid to wear a skirt shorter than knee length, but by pairing a mini with leggings, you can get the same look without exposing a lot of skin. Leggings are really in style anyway, and there are a lot of great slimming styles on the market. I love Spanx's footless leggings, but their sister brand Assets by Sara Blakely offers a very similar pair for half the price.

BDG Twill Mini, Urban Outfitters, $39.00

Commandment 5: Keep Thine Heels Modest
I think it's best to stick to flats or low heels when wearing a tight mini because you're already showing a lot of leg, but with looser or longer styles, some heel is alright. Stay away from super sexy heels, or anything reminiscent of stripper shoes.

Commandment 6: Watch Thy Shirt Length
Pairing a mini with a long top is very flattering, but make sure you've got at least a couple of inches of skirt showing, so there's no question that you're wearing something below that top. Tops that hit your hip or a little below look great, and you'll still be able to show off the skirt.

Commandment 7: Know What Flatters Thy Body
If you've got wider hips and thighs, A-line minis will be the most forgiving. If you've got a boyish body and are trying to add curves, go with a style that's more fitted to your thighs. Details like pockets or prints will also add shape.

Mossimo Tie-Back Skirt with front pockets, Target, $14.99

J.Crew Anchor Mini, $69.50

Commandment 8: Use Color To Thine Advantage
The old adage about dark colors being slimming applies to minis really well. Wear light colors on the part of your body you want to highlight, and dark colors where you'd like to look thinner.

Ann Taylor LOFT Dusk Wash Denim Miniskirt, $39.00

Nick & Mo Tab Front Skirt, Nordstrom, $42.00

Commandment 9: Do Not Wear Thine Mini To Work
Unless you work in a very casual or creative line of work, it's probably best to save your minis for your days off.

Commandment 10: Wear Thine Mini With Confidence
If you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable showing off your legs, other people are going to notice it as well. Walk with your head held high and feel good about your body (or at least pretend to). Confidence is sexy, so as they say, "if you've got it, flaunt it!"

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Product Review: Whish Shave Crave

As I've said before, shaving my legs isn't so high on my priority list. Of course, I do it whenever I'm going to be showing my legs in public, but it's a time-consuming chore that usually ends in blood-gushing nicks and dry, itchy skin. My shaving experience greatly improved last year when I upgraded from that crappy Skintimate gel to Trader Joe's Moisturizing Cream Shave (read my full review here), but let's be honest, even with a high quality product, shaving still sucks.

I guess it was inevitable that the marketing geniuses who convinced thousands of women that $200 face moisturizer was superior to the stuff you buy at the drugstore for $10 would create a need for luxury shaving products. This niche is being filled by a company called Whish, which promises a life-changing experience in the form of $32 tubs of shaving cream and, get this, $170 Swarovski crystal-encrusted badger hair shaving brushes.

Your hand is no longer an acceptable vehicle for the application of shaving cream to your leg, you need to shell out nearly $200 for a brush that "gently exfoliates the skin." My favorite thing about this brush is that the Whish people can't even come up with a solid reason to buy it other than that it's "something that no one else has." How compelling!
When I received a full-sized sample of the shave cream, officially called Shave Crave, I tried it on its own for a few weeks, having fun calculating the cost of the product I'd applied to my legs for each shave. To my surprise, the Whish Shave Crave really performed well. I was given the Almond scent, which smelled lovely (if more appropriate for cooler months). Scooping the product out of the jar, I had a flashback to sneaking fingerfulls from the little tub of icing that comes with Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls (you know, the kind you have to hit against the side of a counter to open), because the consistency is exactly the same.

It spreads well over the skin, provided a close shave and left my legs quite moisturized, a feat for any shaving product. In short, this is a great product. But I was very curious whether there would be any difference between it and my $2.99 Trader Joe's staple, which gives me similar results. So I created a semi-scientific study, shaving each leg with a different razor and shaving cream.

I conducted my take on the "Pepsi Challenge" by asking friends and family to feel the side of each of my calves and tell me which was smoother and softer. This got me some strange looks, but once I explained that this was an experiment in the name of beauty product truth, no one rejected my offer. The first day no one could tell the difference, but by the second and third days, about half of the participants said that they thought my right leg (the Trader Joe's leg) was smoother. For the fourth day in a row, my mom dutifully brushed her hand against both legs and said "still feels the same to me."

Being generally ambivalent about beauty products, she hadn't taken much interest in my little experiment up until that point, when she asked how much more the fancy shaving cream was.

"$32.00," I replied.

"For $32.00, someone better be shaving my legs for me." She said.

And basically, she's right. The Trader Joe's Cream Shave performed equally to (if not slightly better than) the Whish, at less than 1/10 the price. And I know there are other cheap but high quality shaving creams on the market (if you've got a rec, leave a comment), which leaves me no reason to recommend it, unless you're looking for "something no one else has" and no one else needs.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Living With Eczema- Part 2- Treating Outbreaks

This is the second (and final) part of a short series on dealing with eczema I've created with Sara, a reader who has learned to manage (and basically eliminate) the eczema on her face and body. In conversations that began during my "What's Your Routine?" contest, we've been trading tips and discussing ways that we make the best of our eczematic skin (I should mention that my condition is fairly mild and limited to my legs, so Sara is the real expert here) and I thought it might be helpful to readers who have eczema, psoriasis, severe dry skin or other similar conditions.

Yesterday we covered prevention, which is obviously the first key step in dealing with a triggered skin condition, but today we're moving on to how to treat those nasty outbreaks when they occur. Sara recommends keeping the following products on hand when you begin to develop rashes:

1. A bottle of antiseptic/anesthetic that keeps rashes from becoming infected and dulls the itch so that you're less tempted to scratch. The ones that come is spray form, like Bactine, are the easiest to apply and are less likely to be sticky and transfer on clothes/sheets.

2. Ice packs are wonderful for soothing the skin and reducing irritation. They also help reduce itching (as well as the burning that results from it). The children's sized packs are perfect for smaller areas and those with fabric covers are the most comfortable. Sara's favorite trick is to dampen a soft washcloth and throw it in the freezer, it works especially well for the face.

3. Aquaphor: the be-all and end-all moisturizer for super dry skin. It's very viscous, so it doesn't work well for day, but you can't beat it as a night treatment. It will break you out if you have combination skin and it contains lanolin alcohol (not always good for those allergic to wool) so a patch test is never a bad idea. It's also the greatest lip moisturizer on the market.

4. Benadryl can make you sleepy, but it's wonderful for allergy relief. They have a new dye free formula that's especially good for those with allergies/sensitivities to dyes.

5. Milk, honey, yogurt and oatmeal all make great natural treatments for dry skin. I've been taking oatmeal baths (whether natural or the kind from Aveeno) since I was a baby, but you can also combine whole oats with milk or honey to create a soothing, moisturizing mask. The higher the fat content of the milk or yogurt, the more moisturizing it'll be, and Sara recommends the whole milk Greek yogurt as a face mask, since it has a thicker consistency.

This post wraps up my series on living with eczema; if anyone has specific questions about product recommendations, you're welcome to e-mail me and Sara and I would be happy to answer them. We'd also love hearing suggestions for how other readers prevent and treat eczema and which products work best for you, so leave a comment and join the discussion.

Thanks again to Sara for her expertise and assistance, I couldn't have done it without her!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Living With Eczema- Part 1- Avoiding Irritants

A couple of months ago I ran a contest in which readers submitted their daily beauty routines- every product they used in the course of a day- along with a description of their skin/hair type and how well their products of choice worked for them. It was really interesting reading about readers' experiences with products (particularly how passionately people felt about certain products) and the stories behind them. One of my favorite entries came from Sara, a 22 year old with highly reactive, eczema-prone skin, who talked about her struggle to manage her eczema and come to terms with her troublesome skin.

I've also spent many years dealing with eczema (if you're unsure what eczema is, read this) though mine is fairly mild (it's more like extreme dryness, no rashes) and only on my legs. My earliest experiences with beauty products came when my mom would give me oatmeal baths every night and slathering various creams and ointments over my scrawny, itchy legs. Sara and I have been e-mailing back and forth for the last couple of weeks, giving each other tips and product rec's and I thought it would be useful to share some of our suggestions, which can be applied to anyone with extremely dry, sensitive or allergy-prone skin.

For anyone with eczema or similar skin conditions, it's important to be conscious of what triggers outbreaks. Having an allergy test done by a doctor can be extremely helpful to realizing what triggers skin reactions. For a while, Sara kept a food diary to record which foods led to outbreaks and modified her diet to avoid those foods.

But food isn't the only culprit. The chemicals in many laundry detergents and fabric softeners are common irritants, and people with allergy-prone skin can greatly benefit from using unscented detergents and avoiding fabric softener altogether. Sara's dermatologist recommended Dreft, while I haven't had any reactions from Tide Free. Cleaning products can also be problematic, so if you notice that your skin is irritated after cleaning with specific products, switching to a more gentle brand like Seventh Generation can really help.

Fragrances (in all forms) can be killer for those with skin conditions. I have yet to find a perfume that doesn't make my skin dry and itchy and I can't be in close contact with others wearing perfume or cologne. I used to only use unscented beauty products, but in the last couple of years I've found that I'm able to handle products with light scents, usually from the addition of essential oils like lemon or lavender. It's always smart to do a patch test with any scented product if you know that you're sensitive. Try a bit of lotion or perfume on your arm and see if your skin reacts within 24 hours. You don't want to wait until you've slathered it all over your body to realize that you're allergic.

Keeping your house/apartment very clean and using an air purifier or humidifier can also really help dry, irritated skin. If I don't vacuum and wipe down just about all the surfaces in my dorm room (it's hard to do for a whole house, but at least try to get the bedroom) every week or so, my skin starts freaking out. Dry air, especially during the winter months, is also an irritant, so a humidifier is essential.

Finally, be conscious of how your emotional state affects you skin. Everyone knows that stress can lead to breakouts, but emotional upheaval of any sort can really negatively affect your skin. There are plenty of far more important reasons to seek help if you're going through a tough time, but if you think that your skin condition is becoming unmanageable because of something else going on in your life, it's a good idea to seek help for your emotional issues.

One of the most annoying parts of having "difficult" skin is having to be conscious of everything you put in, on and near your body, and how it may affect your skin. But once you are able to identify what irritates you, you'll be able to avoid outbreaks far more effectively. And of course, working with a doctor who you know and trust is especially important to managing your skin condition, so don't try and do it by yourself.

If you've got other tips for avoiding skin irritants, leave them in the comments. And be sure to check back tomorrow when I discuss how to respond to outbreaks once they occur.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Reading Magazines, Buying Nothing

In the thousands of fashion magazines issues that I've read in my life, I have never bought anything because it was featured or advertised in a magazine. First, I can't afford 97% of the products they show, but also it's because I (and I suspect many others) don't use fashion magazines to find things to buy.

I've long gotten over the disappointment that comes from spotting the perfect skirt in a Vogue spread and then realizing that it's so expensive it doesn't even come with a price. Mainly, I read these magazines because they give me ideas about how to rework my own wardrobe. And if there's a new trend that I like, I look around mid-priced and discount stores for a cheaper version.

This is something I hadn't given much thought about until Jezebel posted a quote from the vice president and publisher of Lucky Magazine, Sandy Golinkin, who had this to say:

"If you don't have a lot of money, you won't be happy reading this magazine."

Aside from simply being a really great attempt at alienating the readers who subscribe to the magazine but don't have a lot of money, Sandy's attitude pissed me off. Is that how magazine publishers think about their readers? But then I got to thinking, what does "a lot of money" mean anyway?
In the same post, Jezebel reported that Lucky is claiming that the average household income of Lucky readers is $84,400 (and remember that's household, not individual income). That's about double the American average, which is notable, but even if every Lucky reader is a single woman, when you subtract taxes and basic necessities like rent, food, transportation, that doesn't leave a whole lot left for clothing. Certainly, it's not enough for most of these readers to buy $400 jeans and $1600 handbags, unless you shop at H&M for everything else.

So, even if Lucky's numbers aren't inflated (which they likely are, as I would expect some people to exaggerate their income), I really question whether the majority of their readers actually consistently buy items showcased in the magazine. But we read it anyway, and the fact that we never (or rarely) buy clothes or accessories featured in the magazine doesn't really faze us, because that isn't the point.

Maybe the publishers of these magazines will catch on to this at some point and stop perpetuating this false idea that readers go out and buy what they feature so they can dress like the models on their pages.