Sunday, February 27, 2011

"The Shopping Diet" by Phillip Bloch

I liked this book.  Ms. Kathryn Finney's book showed me "How To Be A Budget Fashionista" and this book showed me how to curb my spending habits.

The two books were similar in some ways - both showed how to use shopping strategies in order to save money.  Both had information about sample sales, shopping the big department stores and designer boutiques, and how to save money in each venue.

There were some differences in philosophy:  Ms. Finney completely eschews the concept of buying bags and other "designer" goods off the street, because it degrades the original product, besides which, it's illegal in NYC.  Mr. Bloch said no one would be able to tell the difference if the "designer" bag you bought off the street is original or not.  I think people can, but that's neither here nor there.  In NYC, it's illegal to sell designer knock-offs.

That was one issue I had with Mr. Bloch's book.  The other issue, and for me it's a big one, is that he uses language that stigmatizes the mentally ill.  He refers to indecisiveness in one's shopping goals as being "schizophrenic" and there are references to "maniacs."  Based on things he said elsewhere in the book, I'm going to take a stab in the dark and guess that he's no stranger to mental illness, either in his personal life or among fellow fashion professionals, so maybe that's the root of his use of language.  I couldn't say.  Also, I can't find fault with him alone:  the use of language that stigmatizes individuals with mental illness is rampant.  Still, somehow Ms. Finney managed to avoid this trap.

Plus-size women may also be offended.  He gives scant coverage to plus-size women's fashion issues.  He does mention, and in "The Shopping Diet Directory" he mentions Lane Bryant, Marina Rinaldi, and some other plus-size retailers.  He also draws parallels between "gluttony" and overspending.  I don't think there's necessarily a connection.  Some plus-size women have a very good fashion sense and don't shop 'til they drop, making all their purchases count and work for them; some thinner women show poor judgment when they shop and buy things they don't need on impulse.  I don't think it's possible to generalize about someone's reasons for overspending based on their appearance.

Those were my reservations.  Overall, the book is well-written, informative and thoroughly covers its topic, which is Mr. Bloch's concept of "The Shopping Diet" which will help you spend less and more fully enjoy your life and your style.

The book is broken down into three parts, covering ten steps.  Part One covers Steps One through Three and is titled "Digest This:  Weigh the Past for a Beautiful Future" and takes a 12-Step approach in that Step One is where you admit to overspending.  It has a questionnaire to help you determine your three biggest spending sprees and what triggered them.  Step Two is "Commit to the Diet" and features a contract for you to sign, to keep you honest.  Step Three teaches you how to determine what your style is, which he bases on celebrities and fashion icons:  The Classic, The Icon, The Trend Addict, and so on, using examples of stars and celebrities who fall into each category to help you determine which style category best fits you.

Part Two is titled "Battle of the Bulge: The Closet Cleanse" and covers Steps Four through Eight.  It's all about how to clean out your closet, let go of what no longer is appropriate, what no longer fits, etc.  Then he gives you a list of all the items which he thinks should be in a woman's closet.  Everyone seems to have their Top Ten or 25 or 100 items that should be in a woman's closet.  I have to say I agreed with his list, because I have most of those items in my closet.  He also covers what items are never appropriate to wear in a professional environment.

Part Three is titled "The Ultimate Indulgence: Your Super Self" and it's about how to practice "safe, responsible shopping" (Step Nine) and how to "make The Diet a way of life" (Step Ten).  What I liked best about Step Ten was that it focused on getting out and doing other things besides shopping, such as going to a movie, hanging out with friends, going for a bike ride or a walk ... non-consumer oriented activities.

I also really liked how he wrote about shoes.  Seriously, when this guy talks about shoes, he turns into a poet.  His imagination takes flight, and he takes you along with him.  This guy's got you covered, from flats to sneakers to platforms and dress sandals.

I would recommend this book for somebody who is looking to rein in their spending habits in a sane and rational way, while nurturing a responsible, selective method of shopping.  While it covers much of the same material as "How To Be A Budget Fashionista," his approach to the material is different, as are some of his solutions to spending problems.  He also encourages you to get to the core reasons as to why you are spending so much time and money shopping, which is useful if you want to have insight into your behavior.  Personally I would rather have insight into my behavior; then I can tackle the root cause and work from there.  I would say this is a useful addition to the well-informed consumer's library.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"How To Be A Budget Fashionista" by Kathryn Finney

Some people find out early on in life what their interests are and if they are lucky, they get to pursue that as a career.  The career may last a lifetime, or their career goals may change over time, but basically you'll find that their career goals all relate back to their main interests which have preoccupied them for most of their lives.  

Such a person is Kathryn Finney.  She became interested in fashion and style very early on in life, and through her careers as fashion stylist, fashion blogger ( and personal stylist, she has been able to pursue her interests.  Lucky for us, the fashion and budget conscious public!  

Kathryn Finney is a decent writer.  She is witty, has funny stories to tell, and delivers her information in a breezy, fast-paced style, as if your best fashion-conscious friend came over to deliver the low-down on shopping on a budget and scoring designer goods at significant reductions.  

The book is chock-full of information, and it's information everyone can use.  The book is geared mostly toward women, but men who are interested in getting quality goods for their money could use this book, too.  

To outline the book, it's divided into three steps, with separate chapters covering each aspect of the step.  The first step is "Know Your Budget" which deals with the financial aspects of shopping and offers tips for creating a shopping budget that won't break the bank and leave you broke and penniless, or in debt.  Ms. Finney is big on getting out of debt and staying out of debt, which is one more reason to like her.  She gives you tips for raising cash for a new wardrobe.  She discusses the meaning and purpose of a FICO score.  She gives you tips for how to use your money wisely.  One tip she came up with that I liked was to use a reloadable Visa or American Express gift card and put the money you've saved for your shopping budget on the card.  No more money on the card, shopping is complete.  This forces you to be aware of what you're spending, and to spend conscientiously.  She also discusses the wise use of credit cards.  

Step Two is "Know Your Style" and covers methods of finding your own style, going through your closet and doing a closet purge, the importance of good undergarments (something my sister schooled me in, but which I only recently have begun to appreciate), and accessories.  Beauty 101 contains many home-made beauty lotions, potions, masks and other beauty and hygiene solutions, as well as an interview with celebrity makeup artist and author, Elke von Freudenberg.  Practically any question you might have about how to establish and maintain a beauty and makeup routine on a budget is answered here, including when to save money and when to splurge.  She also discusses trends and the people who decide them and how YOU can become one of those people and predict trends ahead of the curve.  The final chapter in "Know Your Style" is titled, "The Shopping List" and it shows you how, using the information from the chapter "Finding Your Personal Style" you can come up with a workable shopping list that will allow you to spend within your means and get the items that will provide you with the most style bang for your buck.  In other words, clothes and accessories that you will actually use and LOVE.  Because Ms. Finney's main belief is that if you don't LOVE it, you shouldn't buy it.  So don't buy that $4.99 blouse just because it's on sale if you don't love it and it has no place in your wardrobe.  That's no bargain.  

Step Three is "Know Your Bargains" and covers in detail the different shopping meccas where you will be spending your time and money:  Department stores, outlets, shopping centers, sample sales, warehouse sales, thrift and consignment stores, and the Internet.  The next to last chapter is "Putting It All Together," in which Ms. Finney responds to letters from women with specific style issues:  Putting together a work wardrobe on a budget, how to dress for a life change or a career change and staying current in style as one ages.  

The Conclusion is titled, "Congratulations - You've Made It!" and it covers the highlights of the tips in the book and features a plug for her website.  I like the website, but I'm still learning how to navigate it in all its spectacular detail.  Like the book, there's a lot of information there.  After reading the book, you can plug in a special code that will allow you to receive a certificate as a Certified Budget Fashionista, and you receive coupons.  

Considering that the book only costs $14.00 full price, and you can get it for less on Amazon, and taking into account the money you will probably save using her tips, I would say this is a pretty good way to spend $14.00.  Heck, I go to the deli and spend that much on a day's worth of groceries, sometimes.  

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how to save money, improve their budgeting and financial skills, and improve their style all at the same time.  Who wouldn't want to do all that?  

In other, related news, I dropped out of the book club, so now I will have UNLIMITED TIME to devote to reading books and reviewing them.  Watch, it will take me even longer.  GAH!!!  Hope not!  

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Company Store Puts the Kabosh on My Spending

I became achingly aware that I need new sheets, a new duvet and a new duvet cover, and I figured, "Why not get a Euro sham, too?"  Free monogramming was being offered, so of course, to avoid confusion in the laundromat, I had everything but the fitted sheet monogrammed.

The Company Store has been around for like 80 years or something ridiculous like that and really, if you have to get bedding, there's just no point in going anywhere else, in my opinion.

They were having their annual White Sale, so I was able to get flat and fitted sheets for $12.99 each, pillowcases for $23.99 a pair (I bought 2 pair, because I have three pillows), and I paid full price for the comforter, which was $129, and paid $20.99 for the Euro sham, and $47.99 for the duvet cover.  So it came to a lot of money, but I'll have everything forever, practically.  I bought my last duvet from them over 20 years ago, and it's still OK, but it's a bit lumpy, and stained.  But the fill isn't coming loose or anything.  However, it's going to have to go in the garbage once the new duvet arrives.  I don't think anyone wants my stained, well-used bedding.

So because I made that admittedly somewhat impulse purchase (I guess I could've gone without new bedding for another month - but, really, the situation is very sad) and also because I really MUST do my taxes (crazy government, always expecting to be paid!), I'm going to be not in such great financial shape this month, I think.  I still have money squirreled away, but I'd rather not touch it.  Also, the accountant is expensive and he needs to be paid, too.  I have to do two years of taxes, 2009 and 2010.  Hopefully I don't owe anything!

So, long story not very short, I'm not going to be doing much shopping from now until mid-March, unless it's for absolute necessities like food (planning on going food shopping tomorrow, but you don't want to hear about that) or household necessities or toothpaste or something, and I'm pretty well-stocked.  After a period of scarcity, it's really funny what you stock up on.  For instance, I have plenty of shower gel, scrubs, toothpaste, floss, toothbrushes, facial cleanser and skincare products.  Thanks to The Body Shop for the recent sales.

On the other hand, since I won't be doing any Internet or other pleasure-shopping, I will probably be able to read more style/fashion/beauty books and I just got a whole new slew of them in, plus I have backlog, so I'll be busy!  I also belong to a book club and I just finished "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" for that and I'm going to try to convince them to read the whole Millennium Trilogy!  STIEG LARSSON RULES!!!!  LISBETH SALANDER LIVES!!!!!  Noomi Rapace is just wonderful in that role in the Swedish movies.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ways I Miss My Mom and What She Taught Me

Periodically, I get lonesome for my mom and I start to miss her.  She died in 1992.  Don't worry, I'm not going to get all maudlin, tear-in-my-beer on you.  It's just that my mom taught me everything I know about home organization, closet organization, clothing care and how a garment should be constructed.  Her cooking lessons, on the other hand, never really caught on, and I learned that from a wonderful Sicilian lady, Sadie, who was my roommate when I was a young college student.  That's why this Norwegian-American can cook you a nice lasagna, but wouldn't know the first thing about how to make you some Scandinavian meatballs.  They're round, right?  Just kidding.  My Irish sister-in-law makes wonderful Swedish meatballs.  

But when I look back at the way my mom organized her house, and believe me, she really organized her house, she did almost everything according to the seasons.  My dad, too, had his schedule of chores that he carried out around the house according to the time of year, like cleaning the furnace, making sure the heating system was properly tuned and running right for the winter, and making sure the hose was in good shape for the summertime.  

My mom was really into sewing.  She sewed practically everything in the house:  drapes, slipcovers, she upholstered furniture, she sewed my sister's wedding dress, my bridesmaid's dress, my high school graduation dress, my confirmation dress ... she would even sew dresses I designed.  I would draw it up on paper, and indicate in detailed drawings what I wanted, and with some good communication, she would sew it up.  I still have one of them - a green silk crepe-de-chine sheath dress with ruching at the shoulders, cap sleeves, and a skinny self-belt.  I also have a suit she made for me from a Vogue pattern (shoot, does anyone sew by Vogue patterns anymore?  Please tell me yes!  Vogue Pattern was my life when I was a kid!) that has a unique cut.  It's a short white wool flannel jacket and a white wool flannel skirt with pleats on the front.  Hey, I was young and skinny then; I could pull it off!  I still have my confirmation dress, too.  That's put away in the cedar hope chest.  

She made a gorgeous purple, black and white afghan quilt for me, too.  That's in the cedar chest.  

But anyway, my mom had a very precise timetable of how things should be run in her house, and she did her best to get us all onboard.  Being a clueless type, I didn't always grasp the importance of "the schedule," but I loved having new clothes, so that was the carrot she stuck in front of my nose.  

The year went something like this:
Mid-Late July: She'd start asking me for my ideas about my back-to-school wardrobe.  What colors did I want to wear?  What outfit did I want to wear for my first day back?  Would I please be so kind as to take a look at some patterns and choose one?  

After that was done, would come the fittings.  Ack!  The fittings!  This is why, unlike most little girls, I had no desire to be a model.  Because I knew that if all they did was stand around all day having pins and needles stuck into them and having patterns measured on them, and having fabric stuck to them, well, that was not for me!  I lacked the patience and calm to be a good fit model.  

Once that was over, my mom would lay the material with the pattern on it on the dining room table and outline the pattern with chalk.  Then the cutting of the fabric to fit the measurements on the pattern would begin.  This would fascinate me, because my mother used these GIGANTIC scissors - I still have them - to cut out the fabric.  Of course, since this appeared to be inherently dangerous, it was the most exciting part of the process.  

Then I'd have to try the garment on for size, while all the seams were pinned together.  Adjustments would be made as was necessary.  

Then the sewing began.  This, to me, was a most mysterious process.  I never really learned to sew on a machine, except to make basic repairs.  But my mom could produce anything from her old Singer.  It was amazing to watch.  It was like watching a sculptor at work, producing a thing of function and beauty from a pile of fabric.  It was, as the Norwegians say, fantastisk!  Fantastic!  

My mom was well-known for her abilities as a seamstress.  At the beginning of the school year, I was regularly called upon to model my outfit, while the teachers pointed out with wonder, "Her mother made it!"  Being a shy kid, this was a little nerve-wracking for me.  But I was proud of my mom.  

I didn't have many "store-bought" clothes when I was growing up, because there were five kids in my family, most of them still living at home.  I wore hand-me-downs for play clothes, and my mom made a lot of my clothes, including nightgowns and pajamas.  Getting something from the store (besides socks and underwear, LOL) was a special occasion.  I also remember I had to wear gloves and a hat when going out for dress-up occasions.  A lady was not a lady unless she had: a purse, gloves and a hat to complete her outfit.  There's this scene in Alfred Hitchcock's film, Marnie, in which she buys an entire wardrobe and stores it in a suitcase.  The wardrobe has in it everything a 1960's woman would need:  hosiery from Albert's, intimate apparel, and blouses, etc.  Tippi Hedren is wearing a suit, heels, a hat and gloves and carrying a purse.  

Well, it was a good run while it lasted.  The psychedelic era came and blew all that away.  Next thing you know, we're all running around braless, with love beads, bell bottoms, peasant blouses and bare feet.  Heck, even I was wearing psychedelic prints!  

But I digress.  As I got older and got my own room, it became my task to clean out my closet twice a year - once before fall and back-to-school, and again for spring cleaning.  Of course, my whole room had to be cleaned, too.  I certainly lack that timetable now, boy.  I'm just happy when I remember to do the laundry and swish-and-swipe.  The kitchen, however, I am proud to say, is ALWAYS CLEAN.  

But yeah, at least twice a year I would go through my closet and pick out what I wasn't wearing, what didn't fit anymore, what needed to be repaired, taken to the cleaners or hand-washed.  We'd send the cast-offs to Salvation Army, my mom would take care of the repairs and the dry cleaning, and I would take care of my hand-wash.  

Well, I need to get back into these habits again.  I've been inspired by a couple of people:  MissusSmartyPants and Peter Walsh, my sister, my brother ("You have too much SHIT!!!"  he's been heard to say to me while helping me move) and Storage Magazine has been helpful, as well.  

That said, I have some things on the agenda that I need to accomplish.  I worked on my goals this morning, and some of them are coming along, some of them need help.  But I figured this was a good time to pause and reflect on my "roots"; to get back in touch with the good habits I was raised with.  Maybe this will give some of you time to pause and reflect on the habits you were raised with, good or bad, and how they impact you at this point in your life, whether it's something as mundane as closet organization and wardrobe maintenance, or something more meaningful, like spiritual sustenance and how you nurture relationships.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I Didn't Even Know It Existed - Friend Friday? I Missed It, But Here's What I Discovered

I got this from Tiffany at .  I just happened to decide it would be a good idea to spend the afternoon catching up on blog posts and she had this little challenge going on her blog on Friday, that she got from other bloggers.  I'm just following the trends, here!  

1. What color dominates your closet?
I would have to say blue - lots of blue.  Navy blue, dark rinse denim, light denim, denim jacket (yes, I wear them together - I'm a dork!), French blue, China blue, and blue and white stripes.  

2. If money weren't an issue how would you change the color emphasis in your closet?

I would buy beautiful silk scarves to go with different outfits.  I would buy pretty colored jewelry.  

3. What is your mantra about mixing colors? 

I try to stay within my seasonal color palette, which is summer.  Thank you, MSP.  But I'm not sure I always do that.  I sometimes cross over into winter territory.  

4. For you, how do you incorporate color into your outfits?
I will choose a neutral for the bottoms, like black, brown, dark blue, khaki or gray, add a color top or scarf, and a neutral layering piece, like a cardigan or a jacket to match the bottoms.  

5. Which blogger(s) do you think do a good job of incorporating color into their wardrobe?
MissusSmartyPants, definitely.  She makes me think mixing and matching colors and prints is a possibility, without looking too strange or outlandish, which I don't think would be appropriate for someone my age.  www.youngfat& does a good job with mixing colors, prints and patterns.  She carries it off really well.  

I've started paying more attention to what colors I wear.  I never used to wear gray, but last December I bought an all gray outfit to wear for Christmas Eve, and I got a lot of compliments on it.  I still wear a lot of black - most of my dress pants are black - but now I try to dress it up with shiny sequins and bling, so it doesn't look utilitarian, like a uniform.  My accent colors tend to be lighter blues, pink and white.  I'm thinking I'm going to add some amethyst into the mix, as per MSP's recommendation for summers.  LL Bean has some pretty amethyst tops I put on my Save For Later list. 

Adding color to your outfit, I find, is a great way to boost your mood, and if it doesn't boost your mood, at least it makes other people think you're feeling better than you are - which has its benefits and its drawbacks.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Flunked ...

... MissusSmartyPants' challenge to not buy anything for a month.  Lane Bryant was having an intimate apparel sale for Valentine's Day, and that was my excuse for buying stuff.  I bought panties at 3/$29, matching bras and a set of pajamas for $39.  I know, I know, I just bought panties and pajamas at Jockey, but listen, listen, listen!!!  I really need intimate apparel!  My old stuff is just disgusting!  If anyone were to see me in it besides my roommate and the occasional deliveryman, they'd head for the hills!  And so far I think I just have been lucky that the deliverymen haven't commented on my IA!  I mean, the old stuff is in really bad shape.  I think the last time I bought IA before this was maybe ... 2007?  And before that it was 2005.  So I was LOOOOOOONG overdue.