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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Clothes: How much do you need and how much should you spend?

If you ask me how many clothes I want, I will tell you infinity. I'd like a new outfit every day, maybe a couple times a day. Not realistic. How many clothes do I need? I could get by with two outfits but that's no way to live. How much should I spend? That question is just all shades of grey. With spring in our midst and summer right around the corner, I am feeling the familiar pangs to fill my closet with clothes for my very favorite seasons. It's true, I could use a few things, but what things? And, (more important) where do I stop?

If you join something like Alcoholics Anonymous, the idea is that you will never drink alcohol again. All or nothing. If you join a diet in which all food is provided for you, you eat what you get and nothing more. During the Bye Buy year, no clothes, period. The problem comes when restraint is needed. My husband and I are on a calorie restricted diet so we can choose anything as long as we stay within the day's calorie count. It's in this spirit that I was searching for guidelines to determine how much clothing we really need, and how much we should spend.

I am going to break this up into two posts, this one about quantity, and the next about budget.

If you've been in the stores lately, you have probably seen that cropped, or ankle length pants are shown everywhere. And for good reason. I've been feeling like capri pants are, in the words of the great Tim Gunn, matronly. Ideally, pants should stop at the best part of your leg and generally mid-calf is not it. For most of us, a shapely ankle is a very flattering focus. So, of course, I need ankle length pants. Sadly, this can quickly turn in to an obsession. Left to my own devices, I would have 7 pairs, one for each day of the week. But do I need 7 pairs? No. 

To determine what you really need, start by taking a realistic view of your life. I work from home. If staying in, I will wear my workout clothes so I'm ready for the gym later. I go shopping about two times per week and will want to look a little better. On the weekends, we are pretty relaxed, perhaps going out one evening. I'll start with jeans, or pants. One nice pair for going out. One casual pair for shopping (cropped at the ankle?) Perhaps a work pair. That's three. The average woman has 8 pairs.

Maybe your lifestyle is different. Students may need more jeans. Someone with a casual job. But 7 pairs is one pair per weekday, and isn't that more than enough? Retailers would like you to think you need skinny, trouser, boyfriend, bootcut, flared, distressed, indigo, cropped--all styles in your collection. At at some point, all of those styles were in my closet. But I never wore them. I thought I needed them. Last year, I pulled out all of my jeans, tried them all on and asked myself honestly, will you go out in public in these? Answer no, in the donate pile. Do they fit? Answer no, in the donate pile. Then, over the next few months, pay attention to what you wear. The cream will float to the top and it becomes clear what you need. For me, three pairs of jeans.

Dresses. I LOVE dresses. When do I wear them? Realistically, two times per week. Even if I wear a dress twice a month, I still need 4. I have about 12. Same routine, which are the cutest, most versatile, most comfortable? Keep those and lose the rest. T-shirts--same deal. I need about 7 and I'll bet I have 20. If you don't edit your closet to what you NEED, you will end up with wasted closet space and items that could be worn by someone else. It's harder to keep a super-full closet organized. Give your clothes room to breathe!

During the Bye Buy year, I edited my closet down to 50%. There is still 50% of the remaining collection that I have not, and will not wear so another big cleanout is in order.Yet it's spring and the stores are bursting with fresh, bright colors and what's a girl to do? New rule.

Here's my new rule for restraint: Edit your closet down to what you really need. Fill in if you MUST. Then new purchases must replace something in your existing wardrobe. If I really, really want ankle jeans, a pair of my old jeans has to go. New dress in, old dress out. If you can't find something to get rid of, you probably don't need the new item, even if it is fabulous. I have found this spring that, like a craving for a cookie, my need for ankle pants will diminish if I just distract myself, as long as the distraction is not in the shoe department.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Basic Spring Shoes

During the Bye-Buy year, I made a list of the things I really needed so that those items would become a priority once I could shop again. One of the things I knew I would be hunting for is a pair of basic summer sandals. Something with a wedge and a platform, but not too heavy. Something feminine but not silly. Something that would compliment my existing wardrobe, not send me out into a shopping frenzy finding things to match. Probably something with brown leather straps, possibly black ...

Well, I found them! I was patient and careful and thoughtful. They were online so I looked and waited a day. Then went back and looked and waited a day. Then waited for a discount coupon. Then ordered. And, with my nose pressed to the front door every day, waited for the sight of one of my beloved delivery trucks. And today they came! I love them!!

I have been wearing them around the house all day. They match so many of my clothes, very neutral (well, neutral for me ...) I can not wait for it to be warm enough to wear these babies and I am so proud of myself for making a sound decision. Want to see?

Neutral, comfortable, versatile ... perfect!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pearl by Georgina Chapman at J.C. Penney: Beautiful Dress!!!

Who are you wearing? If you watch any red carpet interviews, you've probably heard of Georgina Chapman, co-founder of Marchesa. Georgina was also a judge on Project Runway All Stars and she was fabulous. Marchesa gowns are known for beautiful, feminine details and have been worn by Blake Lively, Cate Blanchett and even Katy Perry, to name just a few. Always a fan of the celebrity clothing line, I was super-excited when J.C. Penney announced they would be carrying a line called Pearl by Georgina Chapman. I know for sure that this would be the closest I would ever come to Marchesa. 

Typically, I am not a J.C. Penney shopper. It's not convenient to me and I was a little confused when they changed up the whole sale policy about a year ago. My curiosity about the Pearl line drove me to JCP to check it out. I had one more formal event to attend this season and could possibly use another dress. It's prom season in department stores so the dresses are prominently displayed. The first thing I noticed was that the details and quality of the Pearl dresses are much better than most of the dresses at JCP. The second thing was that most of the styles were too young for me. Then I noticed this dress:
First off, this picture doesn't do this dress justice. I tried it on and it was fabulous! All black sequins, it was subtle yet glamorous. The neckline is beautiful. My size fit true and like a glove. The best part, and what doesn't show well in the photo, is the bottom. The high-low area is a ruffle that has the most beautiful, flow-y, salsa feel. When you walk, it moves in a sexy way without being revealing. I loved this dress!

Another incredible gown was this one:
Not for me, but a real fantasy dress that would suit a wide age range. ($250)

So, did I get the black sequin dress? No. At $140, the price was good, and as I said, the quality and fit were great. The reason I decided not to buy it was that I have learned to buy things with some versatility. I may be wearing it again with the same crowd and, frankly, that dress is too memorable for my needs. I can not even believe I just wrote that. The pre-Bye Buy me would have scooped that dress up in a second. But the new me has better uses for $140 when I have dresses at home.

If you are in the market for a formal or cocktail dress, check out the Pearl line at JCP. In fact, if you haven't been to JCP in a while, I suggest you check that out, too. They've really cleaned the place up. It's neat and organized with many good brands and designers and rather nice to not have to worry if there is a sale. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Balls of March

It's March and you know what that means (well maybe you don't ...) it's Ball season! The first one, a Cirque du Soleil theme, was two weekends ago. We were invited to dress for the theme (!) or choose Black Tie. We've been working out but I still couldn't picture us in unitards, so we opted for Black Tie. In the past, a Black Tie event brought a mix of excitement and anxiety. I generally used these events to experiment with a new hairstyle, hair color or self tanning products which inevitably went way bad. I also spent a small fortune securing the perfect head to toe ensemble.

Last year, before I started the Bye Buy Challenge, I requested that my husband refuse any Ball invitations for the upcoming year. No problem, he assured me. Big problem, turned out. These functions are work-related so opting out is not always a possibility. In my No-Buy year, I was faced with not one, but TWO Black Tie events. Having to rely on my existing wardrobe was an enormous challenge but I was happy to report that both events went well, no one mentioned that I was re-wearing a dress and I don't think I ended up on a What Not To Wear list. Oh, I still experimented with new products and that always goes bad.

For this year's Cirque du Soleil event, I chose to forgo the opportunity to purchase a new gown (can you tell I have been watching the Bachelor?) and wear my own red halter gown that was fitting nicely (yay!). I wore shoes that I already owned. Accessories that I had. Home mani-pedi. I didn't spend a dime to prepare. I've got this! I didn't even start getting ready until just over an hour before scheduled departure. Then, I didn't have this after all. The Good Hair Gods apparently didn't feel I was putting enough effort into the day because my hair looked awful. An attempt at a "smoky eye" left me looking like I'd gone 3 rounds with Leila Ali. I had forgotten that this dress was a half-turn away from a wardrobe malfunction and I was supposed to alter it. My husband kept asking, "Are you ready now? Are you ready now? Are you ready now?" Arggggg! 

The event was nice but I didn't feel so special or pretty. I had gone from way over-preparing to adopting a laissez faire attitude that left me feeling poopy.

Take two. Our second event this year is Saturday. The theme is Miami Nights but we'll be going Black Tie again. I did spend too much time yesterday seeking the perfect gown at the right price and came home completely disheartened. Looking through my own gown collection, I found a wine colored satin strapless dress that I've had for a while. I slipped it on under my sweatshirt (and wearing white cotton socks) and asked my husband, "How do I look?" His expression belied his "great!" response but he assured me that without the sweatshirt, it would be nice. This dress fits (a feat in in itself, really) and I have shoes. But this weekend, I will take my time getting ready. Maybe even a real mani-pedi.

A Black Tie event, even if for work, is the chance to step out in your finest and live it up. There is always drinks and dancing and very good food. We are lucky to have the opportunity. Not "spend an entire month preparing" lucky, and not "throw yourself together" lucky. This week I will try to enjoy the preparation and embrace the chance at a beautiful evening out. It's only Tuesday, though, I'm sure I will come up with some new thing to try ...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Power Ranger Boots

My daughter made some deal with me and somehow I have the job of dropping off my grandson at preschool two days per week. I think she didn't want to see him cry, but it turns out he loves school and forgets I exist once we arrive. (cue groovy memory music) When my kids were in preschool, they were perfectly dressed every day. Holidays and themes were observed religiously. I was an outstanding volunteer mom. They always had exactly what was needed. They cried when I left. (end music) Today, I dropped my grandson off at preschool wearing my snow boots.

Oh, he has shoes. But he likes my boots. To him, they are Power Ranger boots. At just 2 1/2, this kid is obsessed with Power Rangers, he wants to be a Power Ranger. And Power Rangers wear boots. One afternoon, when I had started the third PR episode of the day, he was scrambling for weapons when he spied my snow boots at the front door. Since then, the minute he arrives here, the boots go on. He can't actually walk in them, they are a women's size 8, so he does what I call the "Power Ranger Shuffle." This morning, he insisted on wearing them to school. 

I would have NEVER let my kids wear my boots to preschool. What would people think? I would be a bad mom! Part of the change is definitely the grandma-thing. There is a lot less pressure being a grandma than a mom. Truthfully though, since the Bye Buy Challenge, my foremost thought is no longer "what will people think?" When my grandson was a baby, I would only take him out if he was dressed perfectly and coordinated with my outfit. Where is the fun in that??? I have let so much of that nonsense go. Today, I agreed, Power Ranger boots were perfect for school.

In the school hallway I watched him stop at the drinking fountain for a long drink, amazed that he can operate this monstrous contraption. "Good water" he said, then we continued to class. He shuffled in, hung up his coat and waved good-bye. I try hard not to have regrets about raising my kids, but I think it would have been nice if I hadn't been such a tight-a**.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Health Club Track Ettiquette

Warning: This post contains venting. If you are not in the mood to read venting, skip this one.

I don't use this blog platform to vent very often but today I must make an exception. I fear that if I don't let it out somewhere, I may pound someone. I have already shared that my husband and I joined a health club. It isn't cheap but we are really making good use of it and it's fun to go together. Something there has been getting under my skin. You probably think I am bugged about wardrobe choices at the club, which would make sense if you know me at all. Nope. If your there working out, I will ignore what you are wearing (not really but I won't say it publicly.)

The cardio portion of my workout is predominantly jogging (really trotting) on the track. I warm up, trot for 30 minutes then cool down with a few laps. I appreciate having access to an indoor track. Others, I think, take this for granted. The track is small, only 1/10 of a mile. I know exactly what a hamster feels like now. There's not a lot of room on this wire wheel of a track. This is what it looks like:
There are three lanes: walk, jog and pass. Very clearly labeled. Pretty straightforward. As a trotter, I generally stay in the jog lane. I am also a rule-follower by nature. This is not the case with my fellow gym members. In fact, most of them seem to observe no rules at all. On a typical day, here are things I observe on the track:
Buddies: As in that photo, people walk as a pair, or even as a threesome. Taking two and three lanes. So wrapped up in conversation that they are oblivious to the rest of us. They generally proceed at a leisurely pace and I want to scream "Walk at the mall!!! Go have a smoothie in the snack shop!" The threesomes will take the entire width of the track and don't seem to think a thing of it.
Phone-a-Friends: Yep--there are people that walk on the track talking on the phone. Just like distracted drivers, these walkers tend to drift lanes and, again, be oblivious to those around them. It boggles my mind that people share (loudly) personal conversations especially in tight quarters. 
Read and Walk: I am not making this up. Walking on the track reading a book. An actual book. Treadmill, I can understand a book. Track, no way. 
Wanderers: There are a few group fitness rooms that are near the track. Never fails, as soon as class lets out, the is a herd of tired patrons that wander on to the track and I have to dodge them to avoid a collision. I get it, you just worked hard- but open your eyes! Do you wander out into the street? 
Cross-trainers: This group is interesting. There must have been an article in a magazine somewhere that encouraged walkers to simultaneously engage in other actions like flapping arms, running backwards or lunge walking. I have seen it all. Do what you like if you can keep it in your lane. There was even a group class brought on to the track with medicine balls attempting some balance activity.  Have you every driven down the expressway with balling balls rolling about? Danger, Will Robinson.

I would love to sing at the top of my lungs while trotting, but I don't. Sometimes I would like to lie down on the track for a short nap, but I don't. I try to be considerate. All I ask, fellow gym-goers,  is that you please follow the clearly labeled rules. Until you see lanes called Blather Incessantly, Deep Meaningful Conversation and Free For All, just walk, jog or pass.

Sorry about all that, I feel better now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Nice Shoes!

I am of the opinion that if you are going to show up for a sport dressed head to toe in that sport's paraphernalia, you had better be good. Arrive at the bowling alley with an engraved ball, fancy bag, name on your shirt and support brace up to your armpit--I hope you can really bowl. Show up for tennis looking like you've just stepped off the pages of Sports Illustrated, I hope you've got game. Based on that, I am not qualified to fully gear up for any sport so I tend toward low key. 

Good news- I wore out my running shoes! A good opportunity to make a well thought out purchase, I set out with an open mind. After trying on about 20 pairs, I chose these:

Do these look low key to you?

I would normally pass these by because I am not a super-runner. I trot. People who trot should not wear neon colored running shoes. But of every pair I tried, these fit best, had the best support, had great online reviews and were on sale for a fair, not dirt cheap, price. Perhaps no one would notice ...

Wrong-o. I wore them around the house for a few days to break them in. "Nice shoes, mom," my daughter smirked. No matter. I made a good decision, they shoes felt great. I wore them to Kroger where I ran into a friend. "Nice shoes!" Was she making fun of me, too? I kept looking down at my neon covered feet. Are they cool? If I am going out in running shoes, I will also be wearing exercise pants, black, and my black jacket. Dressed in black, when the eye hits my shoes, it's a jolt. Not cool.

During our recent Vegas trip, I knew there would be lots of walking and I had hoped to work out so the running shoes were my footwear of choice. Plus, the neon would blend in on the streets of Vegas so no one would notice. "Nice shoes" a homeless person commented. "Nice shoes" from the tour ticket seller. From the guy in the Batman costume, the hostess at Margaritaville, and various passersby. "Nice shoes." I heard it dozens of times. In Vegas, people clamor to be noticed. Not me, I like to fly under the radar. In these shoes, though--I felt like a show pony. 

I have two choices. I can try to run faster and better to live up to my neon shoes or I can just go with it. I love these shoes (Asics Gel Lyte 33, by the way), so I think I just answer the next "nice shoes" with a cheerful, "Thanks!"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Vegas: The Land of Many Temptations

Vegas, baby! Sin City. What happens there, stays there and all that. For me, Vegas is the Land of Many Temptations. I just returned from 5 days in that land and I'm still trying to catch my breath.

My daughter had a work trip to Las Vegas and wanted a travel companion. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to show her the ropes of work travel and, heck, a getaway would be nice! I hadn't been to Vegas for almost 30 years but how much could it have changed? Turns out, quite a bit.

To put it nicely, Vegas is a giant circus of sights, sounds and sometimes, smells. At times it just felt like an assault on the senses. There is temptation at every turn. I had to be strong for both of us. Everything there is designed to part you from your money. And they are very, very good at it.

The casinos lure you with jingle-y, celebratory sounds and bright lights. My husband has a theory that Vegas knows who is a first timer. That person is rewarded with a series of small wins, drawing them in. My daughter was that person. $20 win here, $30 win there, she was convinced she has a sixth sense for picking slot machines. But Vegas always wins and I had to pull her away when the winning skidded to a stop. We both had to fight that temptation hard. 

And there's the food. Vegas has more restaurants than I could count, every variation of every cuisine. And the drinks! If you weren't carrying the foot-long cocktail cup down the street, well you just looked out of place.  Healthy options were tough to find, deep fried Oreos were not. I thought I would faint at the tower of warm mini donuts at our hotel buffet. Crispy and delicate, some drizzled in chocolate  others dusted in powdered sugar or cinnamon,  those donuts could have destroyed the last six weeks of super-fitness effort. We had to stay strong. 

The biggest temptation was the shopping. I could not believe the stores that line the lobbies of the fancy hotels! Like Rodeo Drive on steroids, everything is there from Christian Louboutin to Christian Dior. This was the good stuff. For months now I have been beating myself up for buying cheap, clearance stuff I really didn't want or need. Here was my chance to buy the good stuff.

The good stuff, it turns out, is beyond expensive. I was truly shocked by the price tags. Who affords this?  Here's the thing: there are so, so many designer stores in Vegas, it began to feel normal. Keep looking and suddenly $695 for a pair of shoes seems about right. Ahhh ... those Vegas tricksters were at it again. " Of course this is what we all buy. You definitely need this. We all do." Could we make it out of 5 days in Vegas without having to re-mortgage the house?

We did but it was really hard. Temptation abounds. By the last day, we were exhausted by it all. I think 5 days in Vegas is too long. A weekend, we both agreed, would be plenty. The longer you stay, the more the outrageous becomes normal. Vegas can wear you down. Even the promise of Girls, Girls, Girls Delivered to Your Door felt normal and that is just sad. In the end, my sins from Sin City were mostly calorie-laden. I have become stronger since the Bye Buy challenge and it's a really good thing.