Sunday, September 30, 2012

LL Bean Wool-Lined Rain Trench Review


Coat (see more wool coats)

So, several months ago, well OK, more like 6 months ago, back in the spring, the lining fell out of my LL Bean 3/4 Rain Trench that I bought back in 2007 or 2008.  I paid what I thought was a lot of money for it back then, how much I couldn't remember, exactly.   I don't know why the lining fell out - it seemed to be a malfunction.  I just took off the coat one day, and the lining peeled away from the shell, and I couldn't unzip it, or zip it back in, either.  

Fortunately, LL Bean has a stellar return policy:  They will take any item back for a refund or exchange if the item doesn't perform as expected during the life of the item.  I had to return a winter jacket because of similar problems with the zipper - it wouldn't go up and it wouldn't go back down, resulting in a hot mess of a coat.  The jacket was about a year old.  I requested an exchange, printed out the free return label and the return/exchange merchandise form, took it to UPS to ship it, and in short order, they sent me a brand new coat.  This was very important, as it was early winter, and I didn't want to have to buy another coat.  

Since the problem with the rain trench seemed to be a technical flaw with the garment, I figured it would be covered by the return/exchange policy.  Once again, I printed out the return label, filled out the return/exchange form, waited several months because I kept forgetting to bring it to the UPS Store, and it was summer, so I didn't have an urgent need for a wool-lined trench coat, and then finally took it to the UPS Store, and sent it off, writing in my phone number on the exchange form in case they needed to reach me.  

LL Bean called me last Saturday, to let me know they received my package, and did I have any questions for them?  I didn't, I just wanted to make sure they would send me the correct item, since I wasn't too clear when I filled out the exchange form.  I filled it out at the UPS Store, since I forgot to do it at home, and didn't have all the information with me.  The customer service rep gave me some information about the new coat I would be receiving.  It was acceptable to me.  

As it happened, I got the package on Friday, just in time to try it out on a rainy fall day in NYC.  The coat wasn't a three-quarter model; it was a full-length model.  LL Bean let me know via e-mail that the full price of the trench coat they were sending me was $239, that the price of the returned coat was $119, and they weren't going to charge me the difference, PLUS, they were sending me a $10 gift card (which I have yet to receive, but those take awhile).  

The coat I wore Friday performed well.  It's just very long, which is actually a good thing, since the lower part of my legs would get soaked with the 3/4 length coat, because they weren't covered.  With this new coat, my legs are covered.  It still has a zip-out wool lining.  In addition, it has set-in sleeves, instead of raglan sleeves like the old model, and it has adjustable snaps on the cuffs, and a collar, instead of a funnel neck, which was what the old model had.  There's a double zipper on the shell of the coat, and a placket that snaps up the front over the zipper for extra protection from the elements.  

On the whole, it is a very well-made coat, and I expect it will last many years, barring any problems with zippers.  LL Bean is an excellent company that produces quality goods, and their customer service is outstanding.  I hope to take good care of my new rain trench, to make it last a long time.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jeans: A Comparison Study

Jeans: A Comparison Study

On the left, we have J. Jill's Tried and True Fit Jeans.  They cost about $89.90 and they were sent to me as a free sample from J. Jill.  I didn't do anything to request them, they didn't ask me to review them.  They just showed up at my doorstep one day, begging me to take them in.  Not one to turn away free stuff, I took them in, sent them out with the laundry before wearing them, and gave them a home.

On the right, we have Lane Bryant's T3 Technology Jeans.  T3 stands for Tighter Tummy Technology.  You would think with a name like that, they'd be uncomfortable, but they're not. They cost about $70.  I bought them at the Lane Bryant store in the Staten Island Mall, with a coupon, and on sale, so I didn't pay full price.  Lane Bryant has good deals if you watch the sales and get their coupons.

My review:

The J. Jill Tried and True Fit Jeans are in the color Vintage Wash, which is shown in the picture.  They're expensive (for me, at least) and they look it.  They have a perfectly uniform faded look, and they're very well made, with double-bound seams, which you want in jeans.  They have an elastic in the back on the left and right sides, but the elastic lies flat and doesn't protrude or pucker, which is what you want - an elastic waistband that lies as flat as possible.

They have the requisite 5-pockets, with a small change pocket on the right.  My one complaint is that the pockets are not deep, but I can understand why:  Deeper pockets would throw off the sleek look of the front of the jean.  For better fitting jeans, I will put up with shallow pockets.  Just don't put too much stuff into your front pockets.

As to fit, they go on fitting really well - more of a sleek than a tight fit.  However, as seems to be the inevitable fate of all jeans, they bag out after a day's wear.  These didn't do too badly, though.  I wore them yesterday and today, and unlike a lot of jeans, they weren't falling down past my hips.  Don't you hate when that happens?  They stayed up, and stayed put, without the assistance of a belt.

They are slightly higher in the waist than many other jeans that are out there (Old Navy, I'm looking at you!), at least on me - I have a long torso and a high waist, so the fit was fine for me.    If you like a low-rise, these might not be the style for you.

These jeans have classic styling, with no trendy detailing - just a straight-forward pair of nice blue jeans.  

Overall, I'd have to give these jeans high marks, with the reservations cited: shallow pockets and a tendency to expand as the day goes on.  But the expansion isn't as bad as some other jeans.

The Lane Bryant T3 Technology Jeans in Dark Rinse held up reasonably well over two days of wear.  I had a couple of complaints, the chief one being that they are just too long!!!  I had to cuff them to wear them with hiking boots, and the cuff was about 2" deep.  I know I can take them to the tailor and get them hemmed, but that's a pain, and it ruins the hem of the jeans.  On the other hand, I thought they looked pretty cool with cuffs.  Maybe I'm deluding myself.  Time will tell!

The other complaint is that they bag out super fast.  One wearing and they were sagging on me already.  The problem could be that I bought a larger size, on the theory that the smaller size would be uncomfortable, but I should've taken into account the sag 'n bag factor.  My bad!

Other than that, the jeans are made of a heavier denim fabric than the J. Jill jeans, and the rinse is darker.  They do not have an elastic waist, which is a good thing, since most women don't like elastic waists (due to the afore-mentioned problems, which J. Jill addressed in their style), especially on jeans.  One thing I like about Lane Bryant's jeans is that they are cut for a curvier woman's figure - the waist is small and the seat accommodates larger hips, without having too much fabric in the thighs and legs.  Not to say that they skimp on fabric in the thighs or legs; it is in proportion to the rest of the pant, so that it fits comfortably, without an excess of fabric, eliminating the unfortunate "tenting" problem.  No one wants that problem.

They are also well-made, with double-bound seams, with the traditional 5-pocket styling, and the front pockets are deeper than the J. Jill style.  It's very important to wash these jeans before wearing them, as the dark rinse is very dark and will rub off on your skin and any other clothing you are wearing.  

The Lane Bryant jeans have more updated, trendy details, like interesting belt loops and placement of the change pocket, and intricate embroidery on the back pockets.  The thread of the embroidered design matches the fabric, so the design is not obvious.  

In summary, I would have to say I prefer the J. Jill jeans, and they may just have themselves a new customer.  J. Jill offers beautiful, well-made clothing in women's sizes up to 4X (roughly sizes 28-32) and I believe these jeans would be worth $90, if I paid for them myself.  I have to find a way to work them into the budget!  

Study in Pink and Gray

Sunday, September 16, 2012

12 Basic Pieces

12 Basic Pieces

I could actually do something with this, because I own most of the pieces, or very similar.  I look forward to lots of creativity with these basic items!  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Homage to The Vivienne Files

Homage to The Vivienne Files

The Vivienne Files is a blog on Blogger written by a woman from Chicago named Janice.  She  does a series where she uses a basic group of 12 items, in neutrals such as black, gray and white and blue, mixed with bottoms featuring khakis, jeans and a pair of black pants.  She then plays off the neutrals in different blog posts by adding accessories in different colors - recently she did a post using amber accessories, and a post using silver accessories.  Sometimes she's inspired by art, or designers, or something she saw in her daily life.  In any case, if you love fashion, check out her blog, because it's brilliant.  It appeals to me because the style is simple, elegant and understated, classic and sophisticated.  It's style for grown-up women.  It's style for people who think before they get dressed for the day.  

This is my interpretation of the 12 key pieces, some of which I actually own, and others, like the J. Jill cardigan, are out of my reach at the moment.  Of course, you can only tell how well a wardrobe plan and key pieces work until you actually put the idea and the items to work.  I'll see what I can do with what I have.  I'll let you know how it goes!  

Do you have key pieces in your wardrobe plan?  Do they vary by season, or do they stay the same throughout the year, with a few changes to accommodate the weather?  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Quick and Dirty Operating Systems

Back in the day (that would be the 80's for me), there was an operating system for computers that was called Q-DOS, which stood for "Quick and Dirty Operating System."  It was quick, efficient, and got the job done without a lot of fuss, muss, or computer programmers banging their heads against walls.  If you use keyboard shortcuts (a/k/a macros or sticky keys) you have Q-DOS to thank.  

Anyway, occasionally I get nostalgic for the good old days, and random memories from the past come back to haunt me.  This week it was Q-DOS.  This led to me looking around and thinking of things in my life now which would be considered Quick and Dirty Operating Systems.  

I can think of two:

One is quick and dirty tomato sauce (a/k/a gravy, pasta sauce, marina, etc.).  The other is a great little beauty product that I found in Walgreens that's cheap and effective and entirely inoffensive in every way.  

Q-DOS #1:  Walgreens Skin Oil

It's 4.8 oz., and its two ingredients are Safflower Oil and Tocopheryl Acetate, or Vitamin E.  It's like a beauty oil without the hefty price tag, tiny bottle or heavy fragrance.  My skin gets dry in summer, from too much sun, and dry itchy patches and sores are the result of this problem.  I was using The Body Shop's Vitamin E Moisturizing Creme, but it wasn't working.  I started looking around on for a beauty oil that wouldn't cost a lot of money and didn't have too many irritating ingredients, like fragrance or oils that would be bad for my sensitive skin.  

I found this.  It was on sale for $6.99 on the website, but there's a Walgreens that I visit in my travels, so I figured I would stop by and pick this up.  It was on sale in the store for $7.99.  Normally it costs a whopping ... get this ... $8.99!  So for under $10, I scored a really good "beauty oil"!  It's effective (cleared up those dry patches and sores in a week), cheap and doesn't have any irritating ingredients.  

I use it on my face, but you can use it anywhere you have dry, itchy skin.  Knocks out that itch immediately.  All you need is a few drops in the palm of your hand, work into the dry areas or any sores or scars you might have, from say, acne or other skin issues, and pat the remainder gently over your face or the effected area.  Leave it on overnight, or if you need, you can use it during the day under your sunscreen.  

I don't use makeup, as a rule.  I wouldn't recommend using it under makeup, because it is an oil, and oil and makeup don't tend to mix well, especially in the heat.  But other than that, you should be good to go!  It meets the Q-DOS criteria:  It's quick, efficient and gets the job done without any fuss or muss or headaches.

 Q-DOS #2:  Tomato Paste

I learned this trick from my friend Diane when she would come over my house and we'd have "cook-offs," which means that we worked together in the kitchen to make a meal which we'd share.  She's a vegan, but you would never know that she doesn't use any animal products whatsoever, because everything she makes is so flavorful and delicious, you don't miss anything.  

She used Stop & Shop Organic Tomato Paste for her recipe, but you can use any tomato paste.  I recommend the organic kind, because it has fewer unwanted ingredients (the tomato paste above has high-fructose corn syrup and other stuff I don't really want to be consuming, but it cost .88 cents a can, and since cost is my prime concern these days, well, there it is in my kitchen).  The organic quality tomato paste also has a fresher, more vibrant flavor.  

To make Quick and Dirty Pasta Sauce, get a small sauce pot.  Using a can opener, open the can at both ends.  Remove one end of the can, and use the other end to push the tomato paste into the small pot.  Don't forget to remove the lid of the can, because it will plop into the paste after you push it out into the pot.  Take care that you don't hurt your fingers.

Pour one cup of water into the pot.  Add seasoning - you can use basil, oregano, or Italian seasoning.  If you're using fresh herbs (see photo below), rinse them, cut them into small pieces, and add them in the final 2-3 minutes of cooking.  

You can set up the sauce before you start boiling the pasta.  After you add the pasta to the larger pot while the water is boiling, turn on the sauce and let it start cooking.  Make sure you stir it a few times to get the lumps out while it's cooking.  The sauce will be ready by the time the pasta is done cooking, about 9-11 minutes for most pasta.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  

I like to drain the pasta, return it to the pot, cover it with sauce and mix it up, so when I put the leftover pasta in the refrigerator, it doesn't get gummy and stick together. However, if you're cooking one package of pasta for yourself and other people, the sauce will cover the whole batch of pasta, and you probably won't have any leftovers.  Because, really, who doesn't like pasta???  

This fits the criteria of Quick and Dirty, because it's fast (ready in 10 minutes!), efficient (add water and herbs and seasoning) and it tastes really good when you're done!  

This is a recipe for when you need a quick, easy hot lunch or dinner on short notice.  Add some grated cheese for extra flavor.  Like I said, unless you're one person, or not everyone in your family likes pasta, you won't have leftovers.  

If you need a big batch of pasta sauce to last you over several meals, or you want a meat sauce, this isn't the way to go.  For that you need to cook a regular slave-over-a-hot-stove-for-2-hours sauce.  I hardly ever do this, except maybe on a cold winter's day when I have time and the inclination to cook, and some canned tomatoes I need to use before they expire.  

Mother Nature's Q-DOS:  Fresh Herbs

These are my fresh herbs.  From left to right:  sage, oregano, thyme, parsley and basil.  I bought the herbs from Rocco at the Bay Terrace Garden Center.  

The spider plant to the right is Georgina.  She was a gift from my sister, to bring some life into my apartment when I first moved in.  

I think I may have to harvest and dry or freeze the herbs soon, since they're showing signs of fall coming.  I use most of them in cooking, but I haven't used the sage yet ... I plan to use it to stuff a chicken I have in the freezer.  

There you have it ... Quick and Dirty Operating Systems for skin care and cooking.  I admit to being somewhat lazy, so I like anything that's quick, easy and efficient.  

Can you think of any products or tricks you have that would be considered Quick and Dirty shortcuts?