Saturday, August 11, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

She's A Betty has a great group of budget plaid finds

Bon Bons in the Bath
posts about a recent bath experience

Go Fug Yourself posts about Gwyneth's disastrous W Magazine cover.

AM New York on American Apparel's latest stunt (you can read my recent post about American Apparel's advertising here)

Enjoy, and have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Finds: Best of Bluefly Semi-Annual Sale

I've spoken before about the discount-enduced stupor I enter every time I visit Bluefly or browse a clearance rack. I often overlook how flattering the particular piece is on my body, instead focusing on the brand name and that low, low price tag. The inevitable result is buyer's regret, as I end up spending too much money on a piece that doesn't fit well or flatter my body. For this reason, I've banned myself from discount designer stores until I learn some damn self-control.

But that doesn't mean that I can't look, and I certainly couldn't hold back on sharing my favorite sale pieces with you guys. Bluefly is currently holding their semi-annual sale, with additional markdowns on already deeply discounted clothes and accessories. Strangely, I couldn't find any information on the website regarding how long the sale will last (I'm going to assume it's more than a few days for this reason) but with a limited number of each item and size, there's no guarantee everything will still be available in a week or two. Don't take that as an invitation to buy impulsively though... I wouldn't want my bad habits rubbing off!

Vera Wang navy mesh belted pin-tuck dress, available in sizes 4,6 and 8
Original price: $475
Sale price: $259

Lotta Stensson black sequined chiffon mod dress, available in size 8
Original price: $395
Sale price: $209

Vera Wang teal crepe pleated tulip dress, available in size 10
Original price: $380
Sale price: $209.99

Sweet Pea midnight jersey crochet v-neck blouson top, available in four colors, in sizes small and medium
Original price: $104
Sale price: $52

Vivianne Tam black silk picot trimmed shift, available in sizes 0, 4 and 8
Original price: $450
Sale price: $239

Y-yigal daffodil strapless mini bubble dress, available in size 6
Original price: $315
Sale price: $179

Abaete olive gabardine "Marnie" dress, available in multiple colors and sizes 0,2,4,6,8 and 10

Thursday, August 09, 2007

10 Tips For New Bloggers

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on what I've learned about blogging (insert link), I've created a list of 10 tips for anyone interested in starting their own blog. These aren't exhaustive by any means, but they cover the main things I wish I knew before I began.
Before starting your blog...

1. Picking a topic can be difficult, but be sure to choose something you're passionate about and already spend a lot of time reading, talking and thinking about.

2. If your blog is topical (not just about your personal life and thoughts), make sure you're not limiting yourself to one specialized subject. If your goal is for the blog to last and gain an audience, you've got to think about what you can write about 5-7 times a week for tens or hundreds of weeks on end. Don't box yourself in.

3. The majority of the millions of bloggers around the world have a small audience of family and friends, and they want nothing else. If that's what you're interested in as well, you only have to post as much or as little as you'd like. But if you want to grow to have more than your mom and best friend as readers, you have to dedicate a lot of time and effort to producing a consistent product. With very few exceptions, blogs that post less than 4 times a week don't get big (and by big I mean having more than a few hundred readers a day). People have to want to check back every day for new content, and you need to post at least 5-6 times a week to entice them to return regularly. Once you have an established audience, you can cut back, but you have to expect to lose a lot of readers.
Once you've begun your blog...

4. Build relationships with other bloggers. This is so critical, as so much of one's success in blogging is dependent on who the traffic from links. But in addition to gaining readers, knowing other bloggers allows you access to experts who can answer blogging-related problems, give you advice and help promote special projects you might be working on. On top of that, one of the best benefits to blogging is meeting really interesting people you'd never meet in real life. In addition to e-mailing bloggers, I recommend becoming a regular commenter on your favorite blogs. Bloggers are inundated with tons of link requests, but if they know you're a longtime reader and commenter, they're far more likely to want to help you.

5. If you can, find someone else who's willing to read over your posts. This is not totally required, but it will make your life a thousand times easier. Your writing will improve, but more importantly, you'll have another person's impression of your post. They'll let you know whether your point is coming across clearly, where to flesh out your argument and take away fluff, and give you feedback that will give you a better idea on how your readers will respond. This is especially important if you take on controversial issues, as you're far less likely to inadvertently offend someone.

6. Examine your own strengths and weaknesses and identify people who can help you in areas you're not so strong in. If you have no knowledge of basic HTML programming and no graphic design skills, your site isn't going to look very good, and you'll spend a lot of time teaching yourself basic tasks. I knew that these were my weaknesses from day one, and I was lucky enough to have friends (this is the payout of having nerdy friends) who were generous and willing to assist me in these areas.

7. Create a routine that makes it easy for you to stay on top of your blogging. Your life will be so much easier if you set aside an hour or two every day to write, and force yourself to at least accomplish something small every day. During the school year and now that I'm on vacation, I set aside a few hours after I eat my breakfast to write and work on the blog. I find that if I force myself to write first thing in the morning, I can go about the rest of my day without stressing about getting it done. On days when you're feeling totally uninspired, try to come up with new post ideas, find pictures for a future post, or just write a loose outline of a post to get your ideas out on the screen.

8. Write posts in advance. Not everyone does this, but you'll feel a lot less enslaved to your blog if you have a safety net of posts. I try to have 5-8 posts saved up at any given time. This allows me to plan out the order of future posts (so there aren't too many similar posts going up at the same time) and relieves me of the fear that if something big came up in my life (a last minute vacation, a death in the family, a huge paper), I could go a week without worrying about writing.

9. Stay on top of other blogs that cover similar topics and follow the news on your topic. Not only will this provide you with inspiration, it'll allow you to gauge where you stand in relation to other blogs like yours, and hopefully, will help you distinguish yourself. The more informed you are, the better your posts will be. Learn to love your RSS reader (I follow 106 blogs daily).

10. Don't take hate mail and insulting comments personally, and don't respond to them. There are plenty of people who gain pleasure from putting others down, and if you're putting yourself out there, sharing your perspective publicly, you make yourself a target for their attacks. Usually these attacks aren't based in fact, but it can hurt nonetheless. I always find it funny when someone invests the time in writing me hate mail, or posting multiple insulting comments, as it only shows that they're still reading the blog. If you hate it or me so much, why waste your time reading what I have to say? Reminding myself of this point is how I've grown a thicker skin to insults. Also, it may be tempting to lash back at haters, but giving them this attention will only egg them on. Ignore them and they'll go away.

And, as a bonus, 11. Like everything else in life, success in blogging is a mix of luck and hard work. I was ecstatic the first time I saw that a major blog linked to me. The hits were pouring in and I felt like I finally had a shot at getting huge. Unfortunately, after a few days my numbers were back down to normal and it was as if the link hadn't happened at all. I found the same thing happened when I've been mentioned in newspapers and magazines. My hits haven't risen dramatically in the long run as a result of these events. Granted, these mentions have a way of snowballing so that other journalists or bloggers talk about you as a result of previous articles, but it's regular, consistent posting that has fueled my longterm growth.

Now, I'm by no means an expert on blogging, but I hope that these tips will prove useful for those of you interested in starting your own blogs in the near or distant future. For additional information, check out blogs about blogging (ProBlogger and Copyblogger) are two of my favorite resources). I'll be back to regular posting on fashion, beauty and pop culture topics tomorrow, thanks for hanging in with me these past two days!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What I've Learned About Blogging

Every so often I get an e-mail from a reader asking me for advice on starting a blog, or requesting that I link to their newborn blog. And when I mention to people that I have my own blog, it's inevitable that someone in the group will say that they were considering starting their own. I completely understand where they're coming from, as I was in their position about a year ago, but I also feel like their perception of what it's like to write a blog is very different from the real thing. I thought I'd spend today's post sharing my story of how I started FGB and what I've learned during the last 10 months.

When I began writing Faking Good Breeding in October last year, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I was spending a year as an exchange student at another liberal arts college and wasn't making friends or enjoying my classes. I needed something to fill up my time and distract me from my boredom. I've always liked writing and was frustrated with the lack of thoughtful writing from the fashion and beauty blogs and magazines I regularly read, so I thought it would be fun to start my own blog.

In about 10 minutes, I had a blogger account and could begin writing. The wonderful thing about blogs is how easy it is to start one, and with the availability of free hosting services, you don't have to pay a thing. Originally the blog was focused on etiquette and fashion, kind of a modern mix of Miss Manners and What Not to Wear, but within a couple of months, I ran out of topics to discuss and decided to take on other subjects (celebrities, pop culture, magazines, beauty, etc) to make it easier to find things to write about.

As I continued writing, I also realized that I needed to change my tone. During the early days, my posts were instructional and I wrote with an authoritative voice. It didn't take long before I realized that many of my readers were more knowledgeable about the things I was discussing than I was, and also that so much of fashion and beauty is subjective and it just wasn't my place to always make definitive claims on what was good and bad.

I began presenting my perspective as just that- my opinion based on my experiences, and let readers chime in on their views. Having greater reader participation vastly improved the blog. Two minds are better than one, but when you have 25 people chiming in with their thoughts on a subject, everyone benefits. I truly believe that FGB has some of the most intelligent, insightful commenters of any fashion/beauty/pop culture blog and I've learned so much from reading everyone's views on a given post.

By December, as the blog began to slowly grow, I began realizing what a commitment I'd made. By this point I was spending about 20 hours a week on the site, posting 7 days a week, trying to respond to every comment and answer every e-mail. I spent a lot of time trying to build relationships with other bloggers, many of whom played a huge role in FGB's early days by linking to me and giving me advice. It was tough getting through finals week and the holidays while feeling obligated to continue posting quality material every day.

I had to learn to fight through days and weeks when I was never in the mood to write, when I couldn't come up with post ideas or type out coherent thoughts. Establishing a schedule of posting daily was great for attracting readers and encouraging people to check back every day, but it was stressful to feel like I could never take a break. I plowed through these weeks by forcing myself to write something every day, even if it was just a few paragraphs, or a post outline, or a list of ideas for future posts.

In 99% of cases, a blog's growth is very slow, especially for the first few months. You put in all this work, feel great about your content, and still you're only getting a couple hundred visitors a day. But it's actually a good thing that not a lot of people are reading you during that time, because you're figuring out your voice and trying everything for the first time, learning from your mistakes. You don't want to make those early mistakes when 1,000 people are reading.

I think now is a good time to mention that I wasn't totally alone in my blogging. My boyfriend Andrew has been a huge help since day 1. He looks over all of my posts before they go up, helps me with the programming/coding side of the site and provides a great sounding board for ideas. I can't tell you how important it is to have someone else to look over your writing before you go and post it for the whole internet to see. Having another person's perspective helps tremendously, as it's very hard to objectively read your own writing and interpret it the way a stranger would.

Today I spend about 30 hours a week working on FGB and he spends between 5-10. I'm really not sure whether I'll be able to continue posting at the same rate when I graduate from college next year and get a real job, and if you're out of school and working long hours and want to start a blog, take a long, hard look at how much free time you currently have, and how much you're willing to sacrifice to work on your blog.

Blogging has been extremely fulfilling and rewarding for me, and at this point I can't imagine my life without it. It's time-consuming and stressful, no doubt, but it's made me very organized, improved my writing tremendously, introduced me to a lot of really interesting people and given me opportunities personally and professionally that I never would have had otherwise, so I feel it's been more than worth it.

If you've got any questions about blogging, or you're a blogger who wants to share your own tips, leave them in the comments. Tomorrow I'm going to post 10 tips for new bloggers, so be sure to check back!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Nutra-Cosmetics - The Biggest Joke in Beauty

Walk into any Sephora and you'll find shelves stocked with neatly lined bottles of brightly colored water, vitamin supplements, powders and serums that are intended for drinking, not spreading on your skin. The hottest trend in skincare right now is nutra-cosmetics, ingestable products intended to improve skin from "the inside out." Americans spent $50 million on these products last year, while worldwide sales reached $1 billion.

Borba was the first, but now more established brands like Origins, Murad, Phyto, Kinerase, Dr. Brandt, N.V. Perricone and Tarte are jumping on the nutra-cosmetics bandwagon with supplements promising skin transformation. Coca Cola and Dannon are releasing beverages and yogurts that claim to improve skin, and it doesn't seem long before we'll be encouraged to take a skin supplement in addition to our daily multi-vitamin as a "necessity" for maintaining healthy skin.

But as of now, there's no scientific proof that any of these edible beauty products are beneficial to skin. Many of these companies tout claims that their products are proven to improve "clarity," "moisture levels," and "elasticity" and remove "toxins," generic terms that can't be scientifically proven. None of these brands have submitted their products for testing in peer-reviewed journals, and the FDA considers these products "dietary supplements," so they don't need FDA testing or approval before going on the market.

In this New York Times article on the subject, dematologists recommended eating a healthy diet of whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean proteins and boring old water will provide skin with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.

A healthy diet, how boring is that? Everyone always wants a quick fix and the lure of the "latest and greatest" is hard to turn down. But in beauty, as in so many other areas of life, often the most basic routine is the best, and you're better off sticking to sunscreen, moisturizer and a well-rounded diet to keep skin healthy and beautiful.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Posh Love

When the subject of Victoria Beckham, aka Posh, comes up in conversation, my friends are often shocked to hear how much I love her.

"She's everything you hate about female celebrities! She's plasticized every part of her body, walks around like she's god's gift to mankind and is a total ditz! She's the farthest thing on earth from a real woman." They tell me this, and then wait for my response.

"But that's exactly why I love her! She's such a caricature of femaleness that you can't even compare her to real women. She doesn't care about being a real woman, she's an unapologetic fembot."

We Americans are late in the game in appreciating the Beckhams in all their absurdity, but I now understand why they're a national obsession in Britain. American celebrities spend so much time pretending to act like they're normal people, whether they're pushing their baby carriages in Uggs and no makeup or telling Jay Leno that they have fat days like everyone else. Our magazines eat this up, spending pages proving that Tom and Katie really are "just like us!," except that, of course, they have a net worth of $250 million and two of the most recognizable faces on earth.

Posh and Becks don't play that game. They're superstars with zero connection to the average family, and they're proud of it. Posh never leaves the house without her Louboutins and a fierce pout, her body squeezed into impossibly tight designer clothes. They're often photographed walking with their children, but it's hard to imagine Posh feeding a baby or changing a diaper in a Versace minidress. She supposedly subsists on a diet of soy beans, strawberries and lettuce (despite having given birth to three children, she still has a 23 inch waist).

Her body is so far from real-looking, she resembles a video game character more than a normal woman. She'll flash a smile maybe once in a given week, and god forbid a camera should capture it. Her breasts might as well be cast iron from the lack of movement they show. Every bit of her, from her hair to her expression to her shoes, is severe and a little bit scary. And if her look is the opposite of the "everywoman," her husband is so unabashedly metrosexual that together, they look like aliens from another hotter, more fashionable planet.

I'm glad Posh & Becks have chosen to grace our shores; Hollywood could use a dose of English absurdity and my hope is that Posh will singlehandedly reintroduce the concept of dressing up to the city of Los Angeles. Will the Beckhams become Scientologists? Will Posh attempt an acting career? Will Americans start caring about soccer? I know I'll be anxiously following the tabloids to find out.