Everyday Chic

for those of us who can't afford couture, but still seek to look gorgeous every day... strategies for investing in your wardrobe by maximizing its dollar-to-chic ratio

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Last Minute Halloween Costume - Prom/Bridesmaid Dresses

It's a day before Halloween, and you don't have a costume. You figure you can make a last minute trip to your local party warehouse and pick up some cat ears, throw on that velour leopard print shirt you haven't worn for two years, and tell everyone you are a sex kitten. Which would be fine...

But chances are, there is a dress in your closet that you wore just once to a prom or wedding and now everytime your hand brushes over it while rifling through your hangars, your heart sighs a little in longing to put it on just one more time. Well, all you need is a few key accesorries to turn your dust-gathering dress into the perfect Halloween costume. Just don't be chintzy with the accessories, you dont want to be just a girl in a dress - you need the special touches to make the costume obvious, so you don't end up explaining your costume over and over again.

I had my mom ship me my high school homecoming dress that looks very similar to the dress above (sans tiny belt thing) and I plan on gathering my hair on top of my head, grabbing some sort of translucent pair of shoes and being Cinderella. I'm sure you can accomodate other disney princesses with various dress colors - light blue for Cinderella, yellow for Belle (Beauty and Beast, people), fuschia for Sleeping Beauty...

A sleek red dress would be perfect with some horns, a pitchfork, and a tail to be a she-devil (the model above already looks demonish). A strapless black dress can easily be turned into an Audrey Hepburn-esuqe (circa Breakfast at Tiffanys) ensemble with gloves, a long cigarette holder and huge sunglasses (you know you already have a pair).

Add wings and a halo for a white dress to be an angel. And a fan, hat and bad southern accent makes a poofy dress perfect for a southern belle.

And I personally think that Halloween was invented by perpetual- bridesmaids- turned -wicked -witches in order to recycle their good dresses and mock their bad ones. An irridescent or otherwise eyesore dress lends itself to being a psychotic bridesmaid or serial killer prom queen - a (plastic!) knife, blood dripping down the chin, fangs and big 80's hair will make it obvious.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Good, Bad & Ugly: Velvet Evening Dresses

The Velvet Good, Bad and Ugly series wouldn't be complete without discussing one of the most precarious applications of velvet - evening dresses. Since velvet is so inherently luxurious, it can provide the perfect touch (or canvas) for a wintertime evening dress. And as this series has established, simplicity is the requisite feature for an elegant velvet ensemble.

The Good
I hate repeating myself, so I'll keep it short: simple. Elegant. sleek. emphasis on fabric itself. Velvet dresses are best worn when they are little dresses (relative to your body), otherwise the heaviness of the fabric will make the dress bulky and flatten all of your curves. While the simplicity of the dress compliments the velvet, the sash embellishes it just enough to add some flair and ffurther define the flattering, body-clinging cut of the dress.

The Bad
This looks like someone made a bikini top out of velvet, and when they realized no one would wear it at the beach, sewed on some chiffon and called it a dress. The velvet top will make small breasts look flat and larger breasts look saggy and separated. And the just-under-the-breasts continuation of chiffon diminishes the curvature of the hips. The velvet trim that cuts through the middle of the dress is distracting and geometrically cuts it in half, drawing the eyeline downward (and you want eyes looking up at your jewelry, makeup and hair when at evening parties).

The Ugly
I think it would be an insult to your intelligence to explain what is wrong with this dress. It does illustrate the importance of how unflattering a heavy cut can be with velvet. Flowers and wings are always a major mistake too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Puddle Jumping

Rain, rain, please fall today, so I can play and splash around in my adorable wellies. Incessant rain has cast its dark clouds over the east coast, and they are now using the Greek Alphabet for naming Hurricanes, so I need rain boots! After searching the web, here are the best rainy day boots I could find.

Brown and Pink Arglye Print Wellington Rain Boots from, wait for it, wait for it... Target!?!? Yes, Target. And they are so cute and inexpensive at $24.99. Target has really come through on their rebranding campaign to become an "upscale discount retailer" - truly defying that supposed oxymoron with these boots that work for both fall and spring (winter too, though in many places you'll be subbing in the snow boots).

On Your Feet Storm Two-Toned Rain Boot
in brown and pink (noticing a theme?) from Overstock.com are super-cute and better if you want a simpler style. A bit pricier at $38.99, but worth it when you save your suede stilletto-heeled boots from being ruined by a puddle.

Gabrielle Rocha Zebra Print Rain Boots from Zappos.com are so funky and fun - the perfect excuse to wear animal print outside of the boudoir.

Video iPod - the Perfect Functional Accessory

In a time when we wear belts not to hold up our jeans, but over our dresses and tops to elongate our waistlines... and we carry around tiny clutch purses too small to fit more than a lipstick, credit card and ID, its time for an accessory that serves an actual function- and the iPod is that accessory... I finally jumped onto the iPod bandwagon and let me say, the video iPod was worth waiting for (actually, I wasn't waiting for Apple to release a vidiPod so much as I was waiting for my birthday to roll around since I can't afford it on my own with my current Anthropologie addiction).

Apple has brilliantly cornered the the designer comptuer-electronics market (Sony for general electronics), seizing on a moment when designers were having a love affair with technology and even included the iPod in some runway shows. Now its the must-have hand-held electronic for the urban chic. Just don't wave it around on the subway or keep it in your back pocket, then the message you are sending goes from I'm-techno-hip to I'm-just-asking-to-be-robbed.*

And don't forget to get a cute case (4th gen cases coming soon, I'm sure).

*as well as I-just-moved-here-from-the-rural-midwest and please-take-the-wallet-sticking-out-of-my-wide-open-purse

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Canal St Fake Handbag Update: CHLOE's Arrived!

So this weekend I was in NYC (I am up there every other weekend since my boyfriend and my careers are in geographic conflict right now) and decided that, after all that posting on fake handbags, it was time I went and browsed at Canal St myself, since I hadn't been in a few months.

I went to several storerooms (some nestled behind sewing facilities, one in a basement, all under multiple lock-and-key entrances) but was disappointed with the selection and quality of the fakes. Even my boyfriend was unimpressed, and while he entertains my fascination with designer bags, he is not someone who follows these things closely (I still can't believe I got him to Canal with me).
I couldn't find anyone to take me to the place where I KNOW there are high-grade fakes but I did see something promising - two imitation Chloe Paddington handbags (dark brown) in two separate locations. The first one was not very good, the padlock was scratched, etc, but the second was much better, although the "leather" seemed a bit too thin. While neither was so amazing that I had to buy it, the appearance of fake Chloe is the sign of much more to come, with better versions soon available!
I also saw Balenciaga, which was new to me on Canal as well - but they had BALENCIAGA plastered on the front, which is not something you'd find on a real Balenciaga bag.

It seems like a whole new era may be dawning for the fake handbag world... I'm going back to Canal in Nov (need to buy some Christmas presents before Thanksgiving), so I'll post back with an update then - where hopefully I'll have news about the introduction fake designer iPod cases!

Related: Part I-VI: Introduction, What's Available, What to Look for, Canal St, Other Fake Items, Industry Overview

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wrap Sweaters: A Love Story

I saw this Alpaca and nylon long-sleeve cozy (left) by DKNY Pure in the September InStyle and fell in love. Unfortunatley, at $295 there is no way I could justify buying it, although I am sure I would practically live in it the entire winter and it would go with almost anything, and it looks so warm and... there I go again, and now I have to talk myself back out of it.

But this story of unrequited love has a fairy-tale ending (sort of)... this morning I got a promo email from Bluefly (check out our novelty sweaters!) and so I did a quick browse-through (sorted by price) and came across this Cousin Johnny convertible sweater wrap (below), which I think is so genius!

Although its not alpaca, it does look rather warm, and the versatility makes it so easy to layer appropriately. And if I thought I could wear the other wrap all the time, this one is definitely something I could get to fit any occasion. And at $52.95 - its a fifth of the price of the other one! Of course there is the dilemma of color - teal, chocolate brown or black? My wardrobe accomodates all three so well. There is also avocado, raspberry and cranberry - which strung together reminds me of some concoction from Jamba Juice, and which all seem a little too vibrant for a fall/winter ensemble.

My one hesitation (why, world, are you not perfect?) is that I can't see it, touch it, try it on, before I buy it, and I hate going through the returning something via mail thing. Plus, Bluefly doesn't refund original shipping if an item is returned.

Still, how can I resist what seems to be my sweater-wrap soul mate?


A friend just alerted me to a wrap sweater from Anthropologie my fave Anthro lin
e, Velvet (right, $68). The feminine touches such as the finishing on the sleeves (click through to see detail and variations) augment its softness.

Luckily, my workplace is within walking distance from one of their stores, so I can stop by and check it out tomorrow during my lunch break - while I am obviously a huge internet fan, there is still such value to physically interacting with something before purchasing it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Good, Bad & Ugly: Velvet Tops and Skirts

Velvet can make the right piece of clothing completely luxurious, perfect for a dinner party or night out, or completely ridiculous, perfect for the circus or a bad Victorian-era halloween costume.

The Good

Left: This top is so gorgeous and elegant! The color and lace combination is perfect - very feminine but not too little-girly (which is a common downfall of lace and velvet together). Right: This skirt also brings lace and velvet together for an exquisite winter look. Note that both, while adorned by sophisticated lace additions, emphasize simplicity and sleekness in their use of the velvet material - this allows the velvet itself to define the elegance of the item.

The Bad

Left: What is this supposed to be? An over-the-blouse corset? An oddly cut vest? It seems like there were scraps left from making a velvet jacket or dress and some poor design student stiched them together in hopes of creating something wearable. The color is the only thing this top has going for it. Right: This skirt looks like the fabric from the couch of a whorehouse. The bright fushcia is only made uglier by the double-trim. The cut is also unflattering, bunching the fabric up around the waist for what is sure to overexmphasize the hips and hide the curvature of the butt (something you want to flaunt!).

The Ugly

Left: Yes, that is the front view of the blouse. Yes, it is hideous in multiple ways. I don't know who would dye velvet to make it look like denim, considering denim is the exact opposite of the texture and feel of velvet (denim=ultra casual, velvet=ultra lux) and I don't know why that person would then give their denim-velvet creation a cut that is sure to have the affect of flattening the chest via the huge poofy 3/4 sleeves and the unflattering straight cut of the front of the blouse, but whoever it is, they should prepare to see their work on the sale racks of Anthropologie for months, until Anthro is giving them away (Seinfeld and the puffy shirt episode comes to mind). Right: This skirt is equally disastrous. Velvet tiered skirts are NOT a chic interpretation of Boho - rather they look like something some unfortunate woman picked up at Chicos. Crinkling the velvet makes it even worse - doesn't even look like velvet anymore.

Again, simplicity and sleekness are key to wearing velvet right.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

No More Panties at Victoria's Secret

Victoria's Secret's quality has noticeably dimished over the past several years, and not just with those extremely annoying IPEX commercials.

Why worth mentioning now? This morning I discovered a small hole at the seam of my
mesh panties (right) that I bought in June and probably haven't worn more than a dozen times since (I do laundry every two weeks). Their panties just don't hold up like they used to - they seem to be less well-made with a shorter lifespan every time I buy a new batch. Anything in cotton there is worthless, and it seems (from this experience at least, these panties retail for $12 each) that even their higher-quality fabrics aren't sewn together with high-quality stiching to make them last.

And while I am a devoted wearer of their Very Sexy balconet push-up bra, I am wondering if there isn't also something better elsewhere (although I haven't tried the much - overly? - hyped IPEX)... Still, I must say that VS bras have all worn remarkably well on me and have been hundreds of times better in quality and fit than anything I've found in a department store (and I worked in the intimates section at Macys!).

But I'm definitely going to have to find a new place to buy my panties, I've resisted the inevitable for much too long. Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Good, Bad & Ugly: Short-Sleeve Velvet Jackets

Following the
Good, Bad and Ugly post on Velvet blazers, here are some illustrations for short-sleeve velvet jackets.

The Good
This jacket does everything right - the cut resembles a traditional blazer and gives the most emphasis to the fabric itself. The color is a deep chocolate brown that adds visual richness to the texture of the fabric. And the buttons are complimentary but not distracting. Even the outside-pockets lie flat instead of poofing out, and aren't over-emphasized with lining (its at Forever21 for just $32.50!).

The Bad

While the color is okay, although a bit shiny, the
pinched waist rumples the fabric (rumpled velvet looks sloppy rather than chic) and the hanging ties discompose what could have been a nice, classic looking jacket, as thought pieces were unraveling from it.

The Ugly
The sleeves poof like the Easter dress you wore when you were three (it was cute then). But really it's the color that makes this atrocious - a color unbefitting velvet (and most other fabrics for that matter). However the way the model is wearing the jacket over a low-cut cami really enhances the deep neckline of the jacket - a trick to use when wearing a jacket with such a cut (the deep cut works well on velvet, just not this particular jacket).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Part VI: Fake Handbag Wrap-Up

Overview of Fake Handbag Industry
Counterfeit handbags are mass-produced in China and smuggled into the US and Europe (usually in large crates in container ships).
It is illegal to make and sell them, but not to buy them. Because some luxury goods are also made in China, some fakes are produced with the same machines used to make Coach bags, and so these fakes are even higher quality compared to the real thing. The handbag vendors on the street are often immigrants and usually struggling to get by . US Customs is the agency that monitors and tries to prevent the fake handbag industry, and their role has become more intense due to pressure by luxury goods retailers. Because the industry is illegal, people compare it to, and even try to link it with, illegal drug activity. I have never read this from an official journalistic source, including a wonderful Time Magazine article that provides an overview of the industry. I think that linking fake handbags to more serious crime syndicates may not be far fetched, but is most likely fearmongering (like those commercials where smoking pot ends up in someone dying).

Why do Designer Retailers Care?
Luxury retailers claim that they lose millions of dollars to the fake handbag industry. Obviously, no one who could afford a real $1500 Murakami Louis Vutton bag would instead opt for the $30 fake from the guy on the corner, so the industry is not losing direct sales of the bags to the counterfeit competition. What the industry is concerned about is the devaluation of their brand, i.e. the person who can afford the Murakami bag won’t want to buy it because its value as a status symbol is much lower when anyone can go pick up something that looks nearly the same for $60 on Canal St. (and what if someone thought her bag was a fake? Oh the horror). Thus designer brands lose money indirectly, because she will substitute to another brand of bags that isn’t being sold on streetcorners. This is probably explains, besides the general cyclicality of the designer trends, why Chloe has supplanted Louis and other more houslehold-name designers as the new" it bag".

My take on all of this...
Personally, I know the industry is illegal, but I also know that buying a $60 bag from a guy on Canal St who is likely putting his kids through MIT or a guy on the corner who just moved here from Ghana as is trying to feed himself is not something that will destroy the universe.

Obviously if I could own real designer handbags I would (or at least if I could win one from Bluefly). But I can't afford a designer bag (at least, not yet- I'm a budding careerwoman).

I don’t buy fakes because I subscribe to the status symbol thing (I only own one signature bag, and that's because its so adorable, and I actually think the C’s –its Coach – detract from it). I buy fakes because they are fun and somewhat luxurious (they are, after all, modeled after designer bags) and just as cheap (sometimes cheaper) than bags of the same quality in department stores. And, you know, if a stranger mistakes it for a real bag, all the better (I do tell anyone who asks that a bag is fake).

Final Note
Pulling off the fake bag thing is all about HOW you do it. If your wardrobe is stylish and the bag fits into your own personal style (and its a high-grade fake), most people will assume it's real because of your well-put-together appearance. And I know all the glamour mags say it like a refrain, but its true - confidence is the most important item you will put on to make yourself look gorgeous.

Related: Part I-V: Introduction, What's Available, What to Look for, Canal St, Other Fake Items

Good, Bad & Ugly: Velvet Blazers

"I would drape myself in velvet if it were socially acceptable." -George Costanza, Seinfeld (Label Maker episode)...

Velvet is definitely the fashion furore of the fall, and can add a certain sumptuous touch to a dramatic or romantic ensemble. But velvet is a finicky fabric, and thus can enhance a look with graceful elegance (as it softens and accentuates the trench coat at right) or end up looking shoddy and cheap.

Mix velvet and blazer jackets together and wearing it right becomes even more tricky. As a rule, its best to go with a dark/subtle colored, smoothly finished and simply designed velvet blazer - complications of style only detract from (or even ruin) the luscious appeal of the velvet fabric.

The Good
Left and Center: These blazers all have straight, flat-lying cuts that hug the body and keep the style simple, so that the luxuriousness of the fabric gets the emphasis. The dark, rich colors further accentuate the velvety texture. Right: The collarless cut and delicate trim adds a modern, stylish touch, but doesn't detract from the velvet itself.

The Bad

Left: Crinkled velvet is something to stay away from completely - it looks like someone converted their gaudy drapes into a jacket... this blazer is over $400 but looks cheap and like oversized corduroy. Center: This would be okay if it didn't have those horrible, distracting buttons and the outside-pockets that make it poof out at the waist - not to complimentary for the hips, not to mention taking away from the overall jacket. Right: The bright red overpowers the fabric itself (it would be better in chianti/merlot), not to mention a quasi-military jacket cut that again cheapens the look of the fabric rather than enhancing it. Bright colors run the risk of making velvet look shiny rather than plush.

The Ugly
These are all wrong in more ways than one. But I will try to count the ways... Left: Obviously it looks like something an old lady would wear on a cruise ship - and what is with pockets that are in between the breasts and hips - must be for someone whose boobs fall that low. The trim is distracting and the poofy shoulders only make it worse, also the blue could be deeper instead of iridescent. Center: And you thought it was impossible to make velvet look drab and blah, well this jacket proves you completely wrong - velvet is supposed to be rich and well, velvety, not totally devoid of all color. The gathering of the fabric above the pockets, as well as the overly large pocket flaps make the jacket look like a thrift-store reject. Right: If the center jacket didn't have enough color, this one knocks you over the head with it. Subtle, dark colors are best for velvet, not overpowering neon. Compounded with the crinkling, it doesn't even look like a velvet-related material, but some weird Martian corduroy hybrid mix.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Gauchos: Time of Death...

When did gauchos peak out and die as a fashion craze? Was it when Old Navy started carrying them or when I saw about 60 pairs hanging on the sale racks of Urban Outfitters last weekend? Either way,

I won't retire my gauchos completely
, their soft ethereality makes them too damn comfortable. But they have been demoted in my wardrobe from casual chic to casual... meaning they will see a lot less outdoor arts festivals and a lot more mid-evening runs to the grocery store.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Part V: Canal Street: Other Goodies

Canal isn't only about handbags, there are other things like costume jewelry and other trinkets. The range of imitation goods once included everything from designer purses to shoes - but due to the customs crackdown these are much more rare to find. Last time I was there, it seemed that the best designer imitations for non-purse items (see Canal post for handbags) were in the booths on Canal, west of Broadway. Here's a sampling of what to look for...
Sunglasses seem to be the most widely available fake (that is worth getting)... the Chanels above would go for about $10-15.

Coach (and other signature collection) belts and designer wallets of all kinds can be found... ... as well as other accesories like watches and hats (watch out for hats with designs that don't even exist in the original form).

While I haven't seen ipod cases there yet (let me know if you have), I am really hoping for them soon... of course I could splurge the $50-80 for a real one (I think it would be a good first step into the world of real luxury items). I love this Coach case in Zebra print...

Lord & Taylor Friends and Family Sale

Lord and Taylor is having a friends and family event this Thursday-Sunday Oct 20th-23rd - get 20% off almost everything (read: no discounted Marc Jacobs, as if 20% off made it affordable) and 10% off cosmetics. Click here to get the savings pass.

This would be the perfect time to get something that you know won't go on sale (like those ballet flats you've been eyeing that are so adorable they'll sell out at full price) or a larger-purchase essential item that you want to invest your wardrobe budget on, but could use a little softening to the financial blow (see my post on outerwear to better illuminate that statement).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Part IV: Canal Street - Fake Handbag Mecca

There is no better place in the US to buy a fake handbag than Canal St. Located in lower Manhattan in the middle of Chinatown, dividing the neighborhoods TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal) and Soho (South of Houston St), Canal depends on more than just counterfeit items for commerce, but this is where the fake handbag industry thrives.

If you can't make it to Canal, the bargaining section further below will still be useful for wherever you end up getting your fake.

Where to Go

It used to be that you could walk into any booth lining Canal St between 6th and Broadway and find some good fakes… but thanks to some major customs raids (due to pressure from the luxury retail industry), all that has changed severely (as the pic of bad fakes above illustrates), and in order to get a high-grade fake, you need to know where to go.

This is based on my experience: As soon as you climb steps out of the subway station there is likely to be someone standing outside saying “Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton, Coach, Prada…” or some variation of that chorus. That person is your first step toward the good stuff. Approach him/her and indicate that you are interested, they may show you a sheet with pictures of bags for you to choose one (and it will be fetched for you) but you want to go and see for yourself. Let them know that you want to look at the bags in person (they might just take you to do that automatically anyway). Chances are they will lead you and pass you off to another person who also has shoppers with them, and that person will lead you to an inconspicuous door and usher you in hurriedly. After entering you will have to climb one very long staircase (it feels like you are making a journey to see the Dali Lama or something) and then enter a backroom that is sectioned into booths. The booths each have a vendor with a different collection of items, so you want to look in each one to see what they have. It sounds sketchy, and quite frankly it is, and its not glamorous either. But when you see those gorgeous, top-of-the-line fakes in front of you, none of that matters. Also note, they are secretive because selling and making copies of trademarked merchandise is illegal, but buying them is not – while carrying your fake Louis might get you kicked out of their fashion show (its true) it will not get you arrested. More on that in the next post…

How to Bargain

Once you have found your dream bag (well, an imitation of it anyway), its time to bargain. Bargaining is a given and is expected, so do it. If bargaining intimidates you, the vendors are usually pretty tame and shouldn’t throw you off. Its easy once you do it. Also, this is not the time to wear your True Religion jeans or other expensive duds – they price discriminate, so you don’t want to look rich.

First, ask how much (they’ll probably offer that info up as soon as you touch it) and then think about whatever they say for a moment as you look over the bag carefully (with a facial expression that says, “Is this really worth it?”). Then offer a price point below what you want to pay, but not ridiculously low – somewhere between half to three-quarters of the price they quote. They will offer a higher price, and that is when you put the bag down and start looking at the other ones, like you aren’t interested in it anymore. If they don’t offer a lower price at that point, you suggest it and chances are they will agree of give you a reasonable price. As a guide, expect to finally pay about 75% of whatever is the original price they quote you (they say $80 at first, ends up at $60; $25 becomes $20 etc).


Here are some examples of what (in my experience) are fair prices on different bags (high quality fakes). Of course, use your own judgment depending on size and quality of the bag - also, just as real Chanel is more expensive than Coach, so goes the pricing for fakes. This is a guide to help you know what to expect, overall I've never had someone try and rip me off, so I wouldn't go into bargaining from a defensive position.

Coach totes/large bags: final price=$60
Kate Spade medium-sized tote/shoulder bag: final price=$30-40

Dior small logo purse: $30
Chanel medium bag: $40

Louis Vuitton large shoulder/tote: $80
Prada very nicely detailed small purse: $40