Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

The U.K. Daily Mail fashion writer Kathryn Knight spends a few days in Victoria's Beckham's shoes (literally) to find answers to the question "how does Posh manage to live her life within the confines of her wardrobe?". It's a hilarious read, brought to us by Jezebel.

I couldn't agree more with Fashionista's complaints about good stores (Theory, Anthropologie) with nice but completely over-priced clothes.

The Budget Fashionista has great advice on where to find real discount designer clothes and accessories online.

The Beauty Brains break the news that color-conserving shampoos and conditioners don't actually do that much.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Favorite Cheap Beauty Tricks

I received the following e-mail from Natalie, a reader who shared her beauty routine with FGB during the "What's Your Routine?" contest in April.

Hi Meg,

I just wanted to share with you a recent (as in this morning!) beauty emergency. So tomorrow is my birthday, and tonight I'm doing a dinner/ bar night thing with friends. Since I've been rather pale lately and am trying to start protecting my skin and stop laying out in the sun, I decided to use my absolute favorite self-tanner of all time, GlowFusion Micro-Nutrient Protein Tan.

But even the best self tanner leaves unnatural splotches when you apply it in a hurry, a lesson I learned this morning when I woke up and found bizarre lines and splotches around my ankles, on the dry skin on my heels, and on the tops of my feet. Yikes! I tried using all of the normal techniques - exfoliation, lemon juice, etc., to no avail.

When I got to work, my good friend and co-worker Colette suggested something pretty out there to remove it - but when I used it, it worked like a charm! So what's the secret weapon? Apparently, we could all learn a lesson from Mr. Portokalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, because it's WINDEX!

Colette first discovered this because her hairdresser told her that Windex removes hair dye from around the hairline. I can imagine that some people might get pretty freaked out to put a household cleaner on themselves, but for areas like ankles, elbows, and wrists, I feel comfortable using it.

Anyway, feel free to use this or not, but Windex definitely saved the day!

Partly because I'm cheap and partly because I get a huge kick out of discovering multiple uses for products, I loved reading Natalie's story (and Windex? Who would've thought?). I thought I'd share my own favorite cheap beauty trick and then open up the discussion to all of you.

I firmly believe that all over the counter exfoliation products are a waste of money. A long, long time ago, someone with a dry skin problem used a piece of cloth to dry off their face and body and realized, much to their amazement, that the cloth wiped off flakes and dead skin, leaving their face and body smooth and soft. That piece of cloth has evolved into today's washcloth, an item that can be bought for less than $2 at most stores.

In my experience, washing your face with a washcloth is just as effective as any high priced exfoliators, which feel good but don't make my face any smoother or softer than my K-Mart brand washcloth. To test my theory, I asked my dermatologist whether this was true, and he told me that unless you're looking for exfoliation on the level of microdermabrasion, you're sloughing off the same amount of skin. Also, for those with acne-prone or sensitive skin, anything rougher than a washcloth (like the St. Ives Apricot Scrub, which feels great but leaves my face raw) can do more harm than good.

So that's my trick- skip the exfoliators and just use a washcloth when you wash your face. It's boring, but it saves time and money. I'd love to hear your tips and tricks though, so if you've got a story or tip, share it in the comments!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Celebrification of Fashion

Celebrities have always been known to dabble in creative fields that they're not exactly qualified for. Many major actors and actresses have attempted crossover singing careers, while popular singers often try their luck at acting and just about everyone with notoriety has written a book. But most celebs attempting to crossover find that their success is quite short lived (if they're successful at all). Because the fields of acting, singing and writing are so huge and varied, stars don't have to fear for their careers when Paris Hilton puts out an album or Britney tries to act.

But the fashion industry is a different story, because the competition is extremely fierce, especially for up and coming designers, who must compete with brand names whose iconic names represent decades of quality and prestige (Ralph Lauren, Karl Lagerfeld, etc). And whereas actors and singers have shelf lives that are dependent on their age (meaning a finite number of years to perform, once discovered), fashion brands can live forever and retain their cache, as long as the brand's identity is capable of remaining strong through changing times.

And if getting discovered and being successful enough to make a living from designing was challenging enough for young fashion designers, they now have to compete with celebrities who feel qualified to design without ever having touched a sewing machine or made a pattern. These celebrities get instant financial backing and tons of press, little of which centers on the quality or creativity of their designs. And whereas it's nearly impossible to hide the fact that someone can't sing, dance or act, a celebrity need only "consult" on a fashion line to be able to call it their own.

An article in last Thursday's New York Times perfectly captured the innate unfairness of this situation, as Phillip Lim declared the chances of a young designer making it in the fashion business, "slim to none," while many celebrity backed lines break the $100 million mark in their first or second year (3.1 Phillip Lim is expected to make $30 million this year).

It's been noted in a number of blogs that many of the newest and hottest celebrity lines are based on copying pieces from other designers. In her collection for TopShop, Kate Moss admitted that she copied vintage pieces from her own closet, while pieces from Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen's new line Elizabeth and James are eerily reminiscent of well-known pieces by other designers. If they're not stealing other people's ideas, celebrities churn out bland, inspiration-free collections, like Sarah Jessica Parker's Bitten line or anything by J.Lo or Kimora Lee Simmons' Baby Phat.

I know not every celebrity line is like this (Jovovich-Hawk seems quite respectable), but there seems to be no end to the list of celebs who jump on the designing bandwagon.

As consumers, we wouldn't accept the casting of talentless actors in our movies or fill our iPods with bands that suck, but we seem to welcome the collections of celebrity designers that populate our department stores. While you might not be in a position to choose between Chanel, Derek Lam and the Olsen's line (I'm certainly not), design trends and styles have a habit of trickling down from the top to the bottom, and if the market isn't supporting creativity, beauty and innovation at the high end, there's little hope for those of us shopping at H&M.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Naked Truth About Celebrity Photo Spreads

It's been a hectic month and I've been behind on my magazine reading, so I was delighted to have a chance to catch up on all the fashion and beauty news during a much-needed trip to the pedicurist last week. Once comfortably situated with my feet in the bath and the chair set to "massage," I picked up the May issue of Allure. Lindsay Lohan was on the cover, complete with photoshopped freckles and the tag line "I was a Bit... Irresponsible," which was humorous considering the interview occurred last year and she was doing damage control on an event that's been eclipsed by the 12 even bigger mistakes she's made since then.

As I flipped through pages of nondescript beauty advice (Allure is the Cosmopolitan of beauty, with the same features, interviews and advice every month), I stopped short on page 231, where Vanessa William's perfectly round, smooth and naked ass appeared to emanate a soft glow. On the opposite page, Carla Gugino (yeah, I didn't know who she was either) stared seductively at the camera with her hand touching her bedroom hair, wearing nothing but a fishing net. Had I accidentally picked up the latest Maxim or GQ? What was this nudie spread doing in my beauty magazine?
I searched around for some text that might explain the purpose of such an erotic spread. I know the Europeans reading this right now are saying "what a prude!" but by American standards, this is sexually charged magazine fare. Here is a snippet from the brief introduction, written in tiny type next to a page and a half full color photograph of Kristen Chenoweth humping a log on the beach:

It doesn't matter how impeccable their taste: The simple act of getting dressed can be a career-making-or-breaking endeavour for an actress. Considering that the tablois' fashion police seem to lurk behind every light post, we'd like to think we're diong these five actresses a favor by sparing them the worry of wardrobe selection.

Uhh... what? Is Allure trying to suggest that they are featuring a bunch of hot, naked actresses in their magazine as a way of eliminating the stress of choosing an outfit for the shoot (not that celebs select their wardrobes anyway)? Why don't we just suggest that all famous people forgo clothes and become nudists to spare themselves the catty worst dressed color commentary in the back of trashy celeb weeklies?

My favorite part was the blurbs about each celebrity, which talked about how nervous and self-conscious they are about their bodies, but how empowering it was to strip down for the camera. It's easy to feel comfortable posing nude when you know they're going to use lighting, poses and makeup to make you look your best, and then photoshop the hell out of you anyway. And I don't care how many times Vanessa Williams insists that yoga and fish oil supplements give her a perfectly toned, cellulite and sag-free body after giving birth to 3 children, but I'm not buying it.

Try as I might, I could find no purpose to this article, except that Allure might have been hoping to encourage the boyfriends and younger brothers of their readers to steal the issue. Now, I can admire a nude woman's beauty as much as any other straight girl (I'm an art history major as well, so it's like a second job), but this spread did nothing for me. And when I flipped to the next page, where the headline "GET A BETTER BODY" screamed out at me, I even got a little angry. Was the point to make readers compare their bodies to those of Cassie, Marley Shelton and co. and then feel bad enough to buy the products advertised in the magazine, so we'll look and feel better? Thanks, Allure.

About 90 pages earlier in the issue is the "Total Makeover" feature, in which three women are followed as they undergo long-term makeovers to lose weight and improve their looks overall. Each month, they're photographed in a different outfit, next to a box featuring their before and after weight stats. But just as every magazine loves a dramatic before and after shot, all three women are pictured standing in a swimsuit at their highest weight, weakly smiling as every dimple, saddlebag and scar is present for the whole world to see. They don't appear to be wearing makeup, and have certainly never seen the touch of a photo editor's mouse. Seems a bit unfair, don't you think?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Faking Good Breeding

As a college student, cocktail parties usually mean boxed wine in red plastic cups, which is, I guess, a slightly classier alternative to your average night of beer pong. But last week I was invited to a real cocktail party, with real adults in a real apartment. My boyfriend Andrew is working as a summer associate at a law firm here in New York, and he was invited (with guest) to a cocktail party at a partner's home, a swanky Upper East Side apartment overlooking Central Park. With our limited experience (alright, let's be honest, NO experience) in situations like this, we were both a little anxious about making a good impression.

I was especially concerned because the party began at 6:30, after my first full day of work. I knew I'd have time to run home to my dorm, throw on a dress and nicer shoes and have a little time to fix my hair and makeup before having to grab a cab. On top of it being my first day (wonderful, but totally overwhelming), it had rained like crazy all morning, so my hair was a mess. When I walked in the door and looked in the mirror, I also noticed how dry my skin looked. Applying moisturizer over my makeup was not very successful, neither was desperately trying to blow dry my hair back to life. I prayed that no one would be close enough to notice either of these things, and ran out the door.

We walked into the apartment, which looked like an Architectural Digest spread come to life, and it was all I could do to not stand and gawk and instead focus on inventing mildly intelligent and interesting questions to ask. A pianist played as waiters circled with trays of elaborate, bite sized hors d'oerves and fancy cocktails. A photographer approached us, and noticing our (probably obvious) looks of awe, asked us to pose "like you own the place."

To keep my confidence up, I just kept repeating "you're an adult, you can do this!" in my head. And amazingly, people did treat me like an adult and someone who belonged there. Most people didn't even know that I was in college, so I didn't get the "college kid" treatment. It was a strange feeling having people think of me that way, and thinking of myself that way, but it was pretty empowering as well.

While I still prefer the type of parties where the dancing is a little dirty and the DJ's playing Justin Timberlake and Prince, I think I could definitely get used to events like this one (not that I'll have many opportunities at this point in my life). I've spent a lot of time on this blog talking about faking good breeding, but for once I actually consciously listened to my own advice and realized it worked.

One final thing: I need some advice from you guys. I'm not used to going to parties/events straight from a 9-5 job, and I was wondering if you had some tips for how to freshen up my look in a short amount of time. I was thinking that instead of wasting time commuting home and then going to a party/event, I should bring some makeup and my outfit to the office, get ready in the bathroom and go straight there. Any suggestions for perking up flat hair and dry skin in pinch?