Saturday, July 14, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

The Beauty Brains lists 12 reasons why your hair might not be as shiny as you'd like it to be.

Beauty Addict recommends Boots No. 7 4-in-1 Quick Thinking Wipes for those of us too lazy/exhausted to remove makeup and wash our faces at the end of a long day.

Poetic and Chic reviews the Nan Kempner: American Chic show at San Francisco's de Young museum. I was lucky enough to see the exhibition at the Met last winter and found it fascinating. If you're in the Bay area, I highly recommend that you check it out (it's showing until Nov. 11).

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fashion on the High Court?

One of the many great comments I received in response to my Saying "Goodbye" to Discounted Designer Fashions post last week came from an anonymous reader who mentioned that there was a recent supreme court case that said manufacturers can set prices for their products, and that it could have a huge effect on discount designer stores. Curious and a bit embarrassed that I hadn't heard of the ruling myself, I consulted my boyfriend, a law student and resident legal expert in our relationship, to explain how this might effect all the budget fashionistas out there. He was kind enough to write out a response and let me post it, so I'm sharing it with you all:

In general, when manufacturers and distributors sell their products to a large group of stores, often one of their largest fears is that one of the stores will heavily discount their product, harming the brand strength of the product line and lowering retailers' demand for the item in the future.

To try to deal with this, many manufacturers have tried forcing retailers to agree to
resale price maintenance contracts, in which the retailers agree not to discount certain products below a certain price. So, a manufacturer might sell jeans to a number of stores for $30 each, with the agreement that, no matter what, the stores wouldn't discount the jeans below $65.

Until recently, this was probably illegal under US antitrust law because it was believed to hurt consumers by keeping prices high. Last week, though, the Supreme Court ruled in Leegin v. PSKS that these agreements weren't automatically unlawful.

So, how does this impact you as a fashion consumer? Well, like almost everything, there are good and bad aspects to what the Supreme Court did.

On the bad side, this has the potential to raise prices across the board. If retailers are forced to keep prices above a certain level, shoppers are going to find fewer and fewer bargains. Even worse, stores that often get a large share of their inventory from other stores as closeouts (like Bluefly) might find that many of their suppliers are restricted from selling to them at a deep discount. Because of that, there might be fewer bargains available to shoppers.

On the good side, forcing retailers to keep prices high hurts discounters, but helps stores that provide high quality service and good atmosphere. If stores can't compete on price, they're more likely to compete by offering better service.

It's hard to say what the overall effect of this ruling will be, but it will be interesting to see if this shakes up the fashion industry at all. I suppose we'll see if there are noticeably fewer deep discounts available next season.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

R.I.P. Jane Magazine

Upon learning that Jane magazine had officially folded Wednesday morning, I was struck by nostalgia and went out and bought myself the latest and last issue. I haven't read Jane in years, but Jane and I go back a long way.

As a quirky, confused teenager stuck in a conservative Midwestern suburb, reading Jane made me feel like there were other girls like me out in the world, girls who owned their dorkiness and wore their non-conformist status like a badge of honor. They were outspoken and unafraid of being labeled as feminists. They weren't embarrassed to act silly or admit to having cheesy interests. They were adventurous and willing to take big risks. And they called "bullshit" when they saw it.

I loved that Jane didn't talk down to me with those obligatory first-person rape narratives, or list 100 ways to make my man moan. They spared me celebrity profiles on vapid actresses and guides to a bikini-ready bod. Amazingly, I could actually afford to buy a lot of the things featured in articles. And who didn't idolize editor-in-chief, Jane Pratt, who founded her first magazine at 24 and her second at 35? The girl had guts.

Unlike every other major women's magazine, Jane's goal was not to create an unreachable, unattainable lifestyle that sucked women into buying more things in a desperate attempt to become that perfect woman. This business model is an effective one: create an aspirational lifestyle, tell readers what products and services they need to achieve this lifestyle, then change the trends each month and sit back and watch as they scramble to stay on top of it all. All the while, publishers sit back as the advertising dollars roll in and subscription rates rise.

I'm not going to pretend that Jane was some sort of profit-blind organization created for the purpose of bettering womankind. But for the most part, they did a good job avoiding the formulas and cliches of other women's magazines, and refused to prioritize product promotion and advertising sales over a general message of female empowerment and acceptance of oneself.

Sadly, this is why they no longer exist.

The lesson I get from Jane's demise is that there is no hope for a mainstream alternative women's magazine. As much as a magazine like Jane may have hated it, they had to stay beholden to the bottom line, and that meant not pissing off potential advertisers and making enough money to keep their corporate owner happy.

This is really disappointing for those of us who get depressed flipping through issues of Cosmo, In Style, Allure and Elle, feeling like we're reading the same articles every month. The same viewpoints are always presented, and the aspirational lifestyle they're selling is one we can never achieve.

Luckily, there's the internet and the opportunity for anyone to present their opinions for free online, for the whole world to read. Independent bloggers don't have to worry about selling enough ads or subscriptions each month. They don't have the overhead of a magazine or newspaper and they can write on their own time and terms, about whatever topics they want. There's incredible freedom, and it's interesting to think what Jane could have been like, and whether it would still be around, if it existed online only.

While the standards of women's magazines continue to drop, it's encouraging to think about the endless possibilities that online media can offer. I'm sure there's a smart, young version of Jane Pratt out there, coming up with ways to revolutionize women's blogs. In all likelihood, there's more like 1000 of them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Review: Trader Joe's Purify Grapefruit and Chamomile Sea Salt Scrub

I'm lucky enough to live less than a block away from the only Trader Joe's in Manhattan. This is a wonderful thing in relation to feeding my addiction to a number of fine Trader Joe's Brand products (mmm brownie bites!). The prices are reasonable, the quality is high and the variety is unmatched. The downside is that I'm not the only one who feels passionately about the TJ, and unless I go within the first half hour of opening, or last half hour before closing, I'm likely to wait in line for a long, long time.

The line weaves in and out of the aisles, which is annoying when you're walking around trying to find something, but actually quite useful for discovering products you'd previously ignored. I was stuck waiting in the health and beauty aisle when my eyes wandered to a pretty yellow tub with "Purify: Grapefruit Chamomile Sea Salt Scrub" written on the label. A sucker for anything citrus-scented, and remembering that I'd recently run out of my Product Body Crush on You, I picked it up and took a sniff. Fruity, tart grapefruit was tempered by calming chamomile for a refreshing but not overwhelmingly invigorating scent. I threw the tub in my basket and continued inching along toward the registers.

Forty minutes later, I was home and ready to jump in the shower and try out my new find. I noticed that the TJ's scrub has a different consistency than Crush on You, it's oilier and rougher, while the Product Body feels more like thick cookie dough. The sea salt granules aren't as large or rough as the sugar in Product Body, but the extra oil works to keep skin super soft and moisturized. Unlike Crush on You, the granules didn't melt as I scrubbed, which is great when you're working on extra-rough areas like elbows and feet. Once washed off, the oils remain on the skin, making lotion optional and keeping skin hydrated for far longer than the average scrub or wash.

While having a thin layer of super moisturizing body oil left on your skin can be a great thing (skin stays moisturized longer and the scent lasts for a few hours), it's definitely not good for anyone prone to body breakouts. If that's a problem for you, just use the scrub on your arms, legs and feet and you shouldn't have to worry about anything. And if you don't need such deep moisturization and exfoliation, I'd recommend checking out the Product Body line, as the TJ's scrub might be overkill on normal skin.

The scrub also works fabulously as a pre-shaving exfoliator. I noticed a closer shave with fewer nicks because the oil served as an extra cushion against the razor blade (I still used shaving cream, but if you don't have dry skin, you could probably do without it). My skin was also less dry than when I just use shaving cream, a bonus for those of us who have to apply body cream the minute we get out the shower, lest our dry, itchy skin turn on us. Just be careful not to apply the scrub again after your shave, as the salt can sting freshly shaved skin.

I've also taken to washing my hands and feet with the scrub right before going to bed, and it feels wonderful to curl up under the covers with such baby soft and smooth, sweet-smelling hands and feet. I'm looking forward to trying the other scents available, and at $5.99 for 22 oz, I can afford to take my pick.

This is the second Trader Joe's beauty product I've tried and I'm interested in checking out more. Have any suggestions? Share them in the comments!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Victoria's Dirty Secret

It was in the 7th grade when I first became conscious that my underwear might say something about me. I was changing into my gym clothes in the girls' locker room when, glancing around, I noticed that all the girls in my row of lockers were wearing the same underwear, a low-rise panty decorated in bright prints topped off with a silk band bearing the words "Victoria's Secret." When they put their jeans back on you could see the top of the band, with its giveaway scalloped edges, peeking out, a subtle symbol of identifying with a brand associated with gorgeous adult women.

I was instantly jealous of how grown-up and cool they looked... these were the kind of underwear I could imagine high school girls wearing, and compared to my own Fruit of the Looms that bought in bulk at Kmart, they were on a whole other planet. I realized I could no longer continue wearing the same brand of underwear as my 9 year old sister and 42 year old father.

When I came home from the mall with my own set of colorful VS underwear, I couldn't wait to get to school the next day. Back in the gym locker room, I spent longer than usual trying to find my shorts in my locker and when I heard another girl (a very pretty and popular girl at that) call my name, I turned around in anticipation.

"Where did you find the swirly orange pattern? I was at Victoria's Secret last week and I didn't see them. Orange is sooo my favorite color!"

With that, three other girls jumped in to discuss which patterns and colors of VS underwear were cutest. They were collectors items in a way, and you could compare what was in your collection with your friends. Before long, every girl in our class had at least a few pairs, and despite the fact that they fell apart after a few months of washing, and cotton and banding aren't very comfortable, I continued wearing them, exclusively and religiously, until midway through my high school career.

As a result of my familiarity with their cotton panty section, I came to Victoria's Secret for my first bra and later for my first pieces of real lingerie. The branding that occured when I was 13 lasted well into my late teens, and if you asked me today to think of the first brand that comes to mind when you say "sexy" or "lingerie," it'll still be VS.

I was reminded of that locker room experience when I decided to stop in a VS store on my way home last week. I was browsing the Pink section, a brand that wasn't in existence when I was in middle school, but that I'm sure I would've loved. The concept is essentially taking the experience of flirting with adulthood and sexuality in a safe, private way, but turning it into a public one, as the collection leans heavily on clothes and accessories.

Victoria's Secret might pretend that Pink is aimed at women 18-24, but as most of us understand, when young teens are told that older teens like something, they want it, and the older teens stop associating with it (they're too busy trying to be college kids anyway). I've seen girls as young as 10 and 11 wearing candy-colored sweatpants with "PINK" scrawled across their butts (in fact, nearly all the pants, shorts and pajamas in this line have this endearing feature) and fitted t-shirts and tanks with "HOT PINK" and "PINK BIKINI CONTEST" printed on the chest. There are also short shorts, panties and bras in the same bright aesthetic, many that are indistinguishable from VS's normal adult line.

And while the line is pitched as sleepwear or "hanging out" clothing, kids naturally wear them everywhere, projecting their association with Victoria's Secret to the entire world. In our age of mass-exhibitionism, when any kid with internet access can (and likely does) have a MySpace page with pictures and virtually every piece of information about herself on it, it really isn't surprising that underwear would become outerwear.

The whole Pink line plays into the "ideal" Victoria's Secret woman that I discussed in an earlier post. Young, playful and submissive, they project a message that confuses sexiness with cuteness and naivete. The way they market sexiness, it's not about owning your sexuality, a knowing look or exuding confidence, it's about being innocent, but "not that innocent." When you grow out of the Pink brand, you're just a few short steps from the rest of the store, where a more explicitly erotic article of clothing can be yours, when you're ready to make the jump. By that point, kids have already been brainwashed by the VS philosophy of gender and sexuality, and they're ready to imitate Gisele or Adriana, who epitomize sexiness in the eyes of a 15 year old.