Search Results for: label/shopping on a budget

Budget Savvy

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good, smell good, decorate your house nicely or have style in your life. Often those who have money do not have style, they get caught up in the “It” beg, the brand names, what the celebs are wearing. When I see a stylish woman in the airport or on the street and compliment her on her boots, her coat, her dress I am often told that the garment or accessory was inherited from a mom, bought on sale, found at a thrift store. Women of style know that quality is far more important then quantity, and a high-dollar price tag does not equate quality.

I am happy to know I am not alone in these beliefs, and there is a new eMagazine that is all about this concept. Budget Savvy is a magazine created by Melissa Tosetti; it is about living a fabulous life without breaking the bank. Food, entertainment, home, beauty and fashion can all be achieved beautifully and at a reasonable price. This magazine has articles, links and tidbits to help you achieve a gorgeous, budget-savvy existence. Enjoy!

How to Be Stylish on a Budget

The most popular question I receive is how to be stylish and look great when you don’t have a lot of money. I don’t believe that money equals style. Think of style like a college education. Jane gets a full scholarship to State U, Sara’s parents fund her entire four years at the same college, and Amy works full-time and takes classes when her schedule and budget permits. All three get degrees, all three have to work equally hard in the classes to get that degree, they just fund it in different ways. Your style can happen no matter your income level, it just may take a bit more time or a bit more effort and creativity.

Here’s some of my tried and true tips to be stylish and look great, no matter your budget.

Don’t Buy a Fake
If you can’t afford a real Birkin, don’t buy a fake one. That means don’t buy those faux designer bags that are sold on street corners in the city, and don’t buy bags from lower-end designers that are trying desperately to look like another. No monogrammed fabric, no padlocks, no trends replicated right off the runway.

This also goes for shoes and accessories. If you can’t afford the original, don’t buy a cheap copy. You are an original, make sure your style is as well. The only place where I think it’s okay to wear fake is when it comes to fur. Fake fur can be done well and can be darn fun, but don’t try to fool anyone with a floor-length faux mink!

Follow the Trends
No need to subscribe to every magazine under the sun and watch livestream of New York Fashion Week, but be aware of designer fashion. Know what the hot designers are featuring each season so you can stay one step ahead in translating it. Not only will this help you avoid fakes, it will help you understand how to style unique pieces and mix prints and colors in a modern manner.

Most fashion magazines do a web-based recap after each Fashion Week showing what trends were hot and what designers showed those trends. In these slideshows of 30 – 300 images, you’ll see the underlying themes of the upcoming season, be it a certain print, heel height, fabric, skirt silhouette, or lipstick color. This is also a great time to use Pinterest – follow Pinners who are knowledgeable about fashion and see what they pin the week after Fashion Week. See what appeals to you, and what is feasible to add to your wardrobe considering your lifestyle and budget.

Shop for Need not for Want
Shopping feels good. The ego is boosted when you put on a new dress. The idea of something new takes the stress off a first date or a job interview. I get it, I know, and I do it often. The thing is, when you shop, even if it’s for $5 clearance earrings, you’re taking away money that could be used for something better. Consider the Return on Investment (ROI) on each thing you buy, even if it’s 99 cents. Don’t buy just to buy, don’t buy to feel better. Buy to fill wardrobe holes and to look better today and a year from today.

Focus on Fit
One reason big box clothing is cheaper than designer is because more are made at once. The piles of fabric are higher when they are cut for the pattern, which can cause pieces to be different sizes. This is why sometimes a jacket has one sleeve a bit tighter or one pant leg a hair longer. Also, vanity sizing is more common in lower-cost stores.

Because of these two things, it’s imperative to try things on before you buy. Same dress and a 10 may fit but a 14 may be too small. Ignore the size on the label and if in doubt, buy a bit too big. It’s easier to style something a bit big than make a too-small piece look polished, and many simple alterations can be done at a reasonable price by your local dry cleaner.

And with everything, when you have the money, hit the tailor.  A tailor can make a clearance rack find look like a custom piece!

Choose Solids
This is my most controversial tip, but I stand behind it. A solid black dress will look more expensive than a floral. A solid blue top will be more classic than a plaid. Prints can look dated quickly. Prints can fade if not done well. Lower-priced garments often try to replicate runway prints and we already went over wearing fakes. Also, lower-priced prints aren’t as likely to be matched up, making the cheaper fabrication far more obvious.

Don’t Buy Any Old Fabric
I don’t buy 100% cotton shirts from lower-priced retailers because the cotton is often rough and more likely to wrinkle just if you look at it. I don’t purchase cashmere or cashmere blends from discount shops because the gauge is usually so low it’s transparent or else balls up and pills within an hour of wearing. Don’t just assume all fabrics are made the same; some are just better when purchased from reputable and higher-end brands. That being said, jersey knits, matte jersey, merino wool, ponte knit, chambray, polyester and blends are usually just fine at a lower price point.

Shop outside your Comfort Zone
You know where I do find budget-friendly cotton shirts? Lands’ End. Their prices are reasonable, their quality is stellar, and you can do returns at Sears. Lately I have received quite a few fab dresses from Gwynnie Bee and have been surprised to see they are from Coldwater Creek, a shop I previously considered to be “mom clothes.” My point is that there’s more out there than you may assume. Use blogs and Pinterest to learn about new retailers, Google them to see their ratings, and if they have a good return policy or a store nearby give them a try. You never know, the one item you have desperately needed may be for sale there and at a very nice price!

Baby your Purchases
Polish your shoes and get them reheeled and resoled when needed. Follow the laundry instructions. Hang up after wearing, don’t throw on the floor. Spot clean instead of laundering after every wear. Iron and steam to have pieces look like new after being worn or washed. Mend fallen hems, keep a jar of spare buttons so you can easily find and replace when necessary. It doesn’t matter if it cost $10 or $100, if you care for it, it will look better and last longer.

Quality not Quantity
You don’t need a completely different outfit for every day of the month. You don’t need 10 pairs of $1 Old Navy flip flops, a dozen pairs of jeans, or even three purses. Style comes from choosing wardrobe additions thoughtfully. Not only that, if you didn’t buy 10 pairs of $30 jeans, you could afford a pair of $100 jeans and have them professionally tailored to the right length and to prevent gaping at the waist.

When it comes to quality, it can honestly be found at any pricepoint. One of the most versatile dresses in my wardrobe was $39.99 at Target; I bought it four years ago and still get compliments each time I wear it. My favorite denim shorts are Mossimo and I self-distressed (using this video as a guide) to make them look old and cool and expensive. Thrift stores are always a goldmine, but so are your neighborhood big box retailers.

For more tips, check out:

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How to Shop: Sticking to a Budget

The best accessory I acquired in the past decade was getting out of credit card debt.

My Experience:
When I worked in retail, I found it far too easy to shop. I was spending at least 45, usually closer to 65 hours a week at a mall. Lunch hours were spent strolling through other shops, sipping on an overpriced coffee drink, or treating myself to a very nice lunch at a nearby restaurant. As a personal shopper and visual merchandiser, I felt I had to be a perfect example of style and current fashion and made sure to have the latest shoes, makeup, accessories and always a perfect professional manicure, pedicure, haircut and highlights. When our shop was thisclose to making the day’s sales goal, they could always count on me to purchase something from the new line to get us over the hump.

When I left working at Express, they gave me my associate purchase logs. In one year, after my employee discounts, I had purchased $7,000.00 worth of their clothing. When I maxed out my Express card, I opened a Structure card and used that (hey it was the late ‘90s/early ‘00s when Structure still existed). When I maxed that out, I found out that I could use my Limited or Victoria’s Secret cards and shop at Express. I won’t even go into details about the major credit cards I used for salon treatments, binges at Sephora or Nordstrom, and many a steak salad at the Nordstrom Café.

As women, we are constantly attacked by media telling us to spend, spend, spend. The dress that will get you the guy. The moisturizer that will make you look ten years younger. The bag you must have this season. The five or ten or hundred items every woman must have in her wardrobe. And then of course, the purchases you need so that you can be as lovely as Anne or Mila or Kate. Magazines like Lucky are completely geared towards assisting women on shopping, while glossies such as Vogue and W bring couture to Middle America, encouraging everyone to feel that they too need a fancy label on their dress to be special.

As you know, I love fashion. I love clothing. I find it to be a great way to express your personality, your individuality, your passions. Fashion can also help you feel more confident and more beautiful. But no garment is worth falling into debt. A woman cannot be strong if her finances are crumbling around her.

So how do you achieve personal style while sticking to your budget?

When I got to the point where I was fearing every telephone call, thinking it was a debt collector, I knew I had to make a major change – FAST. For me, it was changing careers. I had to get away from that which was causing the debt – easy access to current fashion. However I still had mountains of debt and wasn’t willing to sacrifice style along the way.

This was when I started understanding wardrobe staples. Pieces slowly collected that could multitask and make a woman ready for any event in her life. I looked at women I knew as stylish and really examined their wardrobes. They didn’t own a lot of clothes, they seemed to wear the same things over and over. And those clothes they wore were perfect. They were well tailored, high quality, flattering. Few prints, few trendy details. Classics like cashmere turtlenecks, crisp dark jeans, white tailored shirts, simple sheath dresses, elegant black leather pumps, simple pencil skirts. They would add their own look to these staples with accessories like scarves, bold jewelry, and belts.

I thought back to the exchange students we hosted when I was in high school – how they could survive weeks in another country with just a small suitcase of clothing. Even with their small wardrobes, they were ready for any event in the US. Their wardrobes were of simple pieces that mixed and matched with one another – pieces of similar fabrics, colors, and silhouettes so they made a true collection.

I looked in my own closet – spangled knit tops to wear out to clubs that still had tags on them, a dozen cocktail dresses, four pairs of leather pants (and one pair bright red!), three pairs of tall black boots, over 20 pairs of jeans. Who the heck needs 20 pairs of jeans?

I obviously had plenty of clothes at that time, and really tried to make do with what I had. My new job required me to wear all black, so when I didn’t have the right item in my wardrobe, I stalked sale racks until I could find what worked at the lowest price. I often bought in bulk – who cares if you’re wearing the same black pants every day as long as they are clean and fit well?

Over time, I got a grip on my finances, but realized yet another new profession and a changing figure required me to shop again. I decided to keep those stylish women and my exchange students in mind. I looked through my closet with fresh eyes and decided to purge. Gone were all the spangled club tops, the evening gowns, and any clothes that didn’t fit and flatter my current frame.

However for purchasing, I needed to figure out a budget so I wouldn’t get back into a financial mess. Before I went shopping, I took a month or two to look at where my money went, and what were my priorities. Thanks to my sister who is the Excel Spreadsheet Queen, I started tracking where all my money went – that pack of gum, that latte, that issue of Marie Claire. I didn’t just note how much I spent on groceries, but what exactly I purchased. I saw that a lot of my money went to food – dining out, alcohol, and purchasing items at the grocery store that I don’t really need (hello another lip gloss) or that I can’t afford (artisanal cheeses, sushi, out of season produce). I decided to adjust my current spending before shopping to see what I could cut and still lead what I felt to be a joyful and comfortable life.

Only then, could I figure out my fashion budget. Some months, I spent that money. Other months, I saved it up so I could get something really special. I stuck to my list of essentials, and decided I would only buy fun items when I got a work bonus, birthday cash, special events. This way, I not only stayed on budget but I was even more careful with my money and those special items not only were nice to buy, but had special meaning behind them.

Each woman’s budget will be different, but it is important to first pay yourself before you do any shopping. Pay off your debt, save and invest your money. Prepare for the unexpected. Yes, a great pair of shoes can make your day, help you land a job or perfect your wardrobe but shoes won’t pay the rent if you get laid off. Shoes won’t buy you a new car when yours dies on the side of the highway. Shoes won’t give you independence and freedom.

If your budget is small, that’s actually a good thing. Small wardrobe funding requires one to do homework to find the best quality for the price, to really get to know one’s body and lifestyle and only purchase that which makes sense. Keep your wardrobe small, hard-working, classic, elegant.

Tips to Stay on Budget:

  • Have a Life Budget. No point in having a clothing budget if you are blowing your paycheck already on other items. That being said, have priorities. Clothing is probably higher on my priority list than the list of many other women. Each woman is different – some budget for world travel, some budget for books, some budget for art supplies, some budget for home renovations. It’s important to first be true to you – prioritize and then figure out where fashion fits.
  • Make a List, Check it Twice. If you have an actual written list that you carry with you, you’re less likely to get off track when you hit the mall.
  • Do Your Homework. You need a black suit? Go to the mall, try on brands, and then go home. Research online for coupons, deals, maybe the same item on eBay or in a thrift or vintage store. Never accept full price unless it is absolute perfection, absolutely necessary, and still fits your budget.
  • Stay Away from Shopping Triggers. For me, it’s malls. I only visit a major shopping mall once or twice a year because I can get lost in there and leave hundreds poorer. Maybe for you it’s Target (can always justify another tee or a $19.99 sundress but it adds up), possibly an adorable boutique in your neighborhood or maybe it’s Net-a-Porter. Whatever it is, accept your trigger and control your visits. Schedule them according to seasons – maybe only allow one visit each season, or maybe once a month.
  • Cancel the Magazine Subscriptions. I am a magazine-aholic, but I know that when I read them, I end up shopping more. Magazines do a great job of making items look amazing, and seem necessary. The most recent Vogue made me spend an hour of my life looking for a certain Brahmin bag – something I don’t need, can’t afford, but loved upon first sight. I did stop before purchasing, but if I hadn’t received that magazine, I would have never known about that orange bag and would have still lived a happy and stylish life. For some, it may be fashion blogs instead of magazines – even if it’s my blog that encourages you to shop, unsubscribe and just visit maybe once a month or every other week.
  • Play “Which Would You Rather.” Sally McGraw of Already Pretty often hosts a “sudden death” question on her Facebook page – which would you rather do – wear only white for a year, or wear your high school colors for a year, and only your school colors. It’s a good exercise for shopping – which would you rather have – that It Bag, or a sushi and sake date night with your mate once a month for a year? Which would you rather own – the perfect pair of black leather pumps, or six pairs of sandals from Payless? Which is more important, your morning Starbucks, or a pair of riding boots? Break down the price of the item and compare it to other items in your life.
  • Get Creative. No one knows you’re wearing the same black pants every day if you switch it up. One day, wear with a tucked-in blouse, the next day with a blazer and shell. Another day wear a cardigan over them and belt the cardigan to change the silhouette. Use your small wardrobe as a brain teaser – who needs Sudoku when you can take the dozen or so quality pieces in your wardrobe and make dozens of outfits from them.

A woman should get fitted for a new bra every year. She should have the perfect LBD in her wardrobe to be ready for unexpected social events. And she should be able to sleep well at night, knowing full well what is going on with her finances. The best accessory I acquired was getting out of debt – the best accessory any woman can wear is self-confidence, and confidence comes from being true to one’s self, feeling strong, and being financially solvent.



Be sure to check out the first of my How to Shop Series: An Introduction

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Shopping Karma

Everyone is getting on the Amazon bandwagon and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. Everywhere I look, another online retailer is offering customers to rate and/or review previous purchases. The trouble with shopping online is that you can’t touch, feel, or try on your item before purchase. Even with easy (and sometimes free – hello Zappos!) shipping and return policies at many retailers, returns are still a hassle and take time.

Enter the beauty of customer reviews. Reading them, you can see that a fellow pear-shaped woman found the trousers flattering, but a fellow tall woman found they ran short. And look, that dress you are considering to wear to your friend’s wedding? Well some other woman bought it and admitted it was perfect for such an affair, and wore it to one recently garnering many compliments and feeling perfectly dressed.

One big reason Amazon is so successful is because not only do they have customer reviews, but they have so many. When I was searching for a convertible carseat for my daughter, I was able to weed through literally hundreds of reviews for each brand and style – reviews organized by rating, by date submitted. Reviews were rated by fellow shoppers for their helpfulness, and many reviews had comments on them providing additional insight. I had narrowed down my choice to two brands, and these reviews on Amazon helped me make the final decision – a decision I have been happy with for months.

Do you practice shopping karma? When you make an online purchase, do you return to that retailer to offer feedback? Often we read the reviews, make purchased based upon the reviews, and then never go back to offer our own feedback. Give that which you wish to have in return – lots of constructive feedback on your purchases.

Speaking of constructive feedback, think about your review before you hit the ‘submit’ button. When saying the dress was tight in the bust, did you also mention your shape, your size, and what size you purchased? If you think the pants run long, please be sure to mention your height and if you believe yourself to be long- or short-waisted. Did you end up having to pin the neckline or wear it with a camisole? Was the hemline too short for work but perfect for drinks with friends? Did the color state it was emerald green but you found it to be more of a muted leaf color? Let other people know. Your detailed, constructive feedback may encourage other shoppers to do the same. And their detailed review may be the very one that helps you pick that perfect something that has been missing from your wardrobe!

Online Shopping

I am a huge fan of online shopping. I work a lot, I have a home and family to care for, and really, malls often frustrate me. I head to malls at least once a season to really touch, feel and try on the new fashions, but often head back to my computer for many of my purchases. Shopping online, you have more variety, often times better prices and what is better than surfing the ‘net, looking at beautiful clothes and accessories at work between tasks?

Many of you readers have told me your favorite online shops. I try to update the sidebar as I receive new links for online shopping. I have most recently updated the links for fuller figured women’s clothing. Unlike many malls where you have department stores and 1-3 stores geared toward clothing over a size 14, the internet has tons of sites geared toward all shapes, curves, sizes and heights. As a woman who comes from a family of curvy women – very tall on my father’s side and quite petite on the other, I am happy to see that there are so many options for women on the internet. Plus size AND petite? What a wonderful concept! Not dressing a woman over a size 12 in a mu-mu? Fabuloso!

As you find gems of online boutiques, do let me know in a comment or email. I would love to offer reader-tested shops for those who are not exactly 5’7” and a size 4 with medium-width size 8 feet and a perfect B-cup chest. Tall? Petite? Narrow feet? Large breasts? Long torso? Where have you had success online? Let’s share our fashion successes! I will soon be updating this page to make it more reader-friendly and link-friendly. Would love to update it with many great sites!

Shopping With Mommy

Pictures taken in the Nordstrom Women’s Lounge.
It was my birthday, plan was to go to brunch at a favorite restaurant, head to the mall for some leisurely window shopping.

Black silk cashmere tank from Banana Republic. Ivory sueded cotton trousers from Ann Taylor. Denim blazer from Ann Taylor. Gold Chandelier earrings and gold bangle. Black Enzo boots.

Makeup is a touch of MAC’s Studio Tech on the face, a hint to Nars Orgasm blush, Fawn Pearl shadow from The Body Shop and black Zoom Lash mascara from MAC. On the lips was Sally Hansen gloss in a brownish pink color.

Hair was straightened, but it got all weird from sweaty trying on of clothes. These are pictrues from the end of our shopping trip. The luggage int he first pic is what my mom bought for her trip to Africa in February. $50 off at L.L.Bean!

Weekend Sale Shopping

Sales, sales, everywhere is sales… yes I am changing the lyrics to this song (which is a cover of this original) but there’s some insanely good sales going on this weekend that I just HAD to share with you.

Old Navy – 25% Off

At Old Navy, get 25% off your entire purchase with the code TREAT. Code is valid until the end of the 18th. A few restrictions: not valid on Everyday Steals, Hot Deals, Clearance (anything ending in $0.97 or $0.99) or Today Only Deals.  I think this top is an office attire staple and I love the variety of colors available; this chunky turtleneck would look great with skinny jeans or ponte pants for the weekend; I love the leather-look pockets on this dress (and love that it comes in regular, tall, and petite!).

Banana Republic – Up to $50 off Full Priced Items

Up to $50 off full price dresses, jackets, sweaters, and more. Note this doesn’t include their Monogram collection or leather jackets. No code necessary, deal through October 18.  I love their Gemma Wrap Dress and this print is something that would look great all seasons of the year; this lace pullover is fantastic – wear over a white shirt for the office and a camisole for a night out!  Other favorites on promotion:

Ann Taylor – 50% Off Tops, Shoes and Accessories

I know, right? 50% off? Get thee shopping, pronto with code STYLE50, this deal ends October 20th.  I think this bird print shirt is amazing, this faux leather pocket cape looks even better in person, and their buttoned-up boiled wool cape is so awesome, I wish I could justify the purchase (for the record, I’ve tried it on, it fits great, I am a Large Petite).

LOFT – 40% Off Tops and Sweaters

No specific date that this is to end and no code needed. Do note it’s not valid on Lou & Grey merchandise, but it IS valid on in-store purchases as well as online.  It does feel that LOFT is constantly having deals, but they’re also constantly getting in new merchandise that doesn’t seem to last long online.  So if you see it and love it, get it while you can!  I’m loving this belted cardigan, and think this variation on the chambray shirt would look modern and fresh with jeans or a midi skirt.  Some other pieces I like that are on promotion:

Lands’ End – 25 to 30% Off

Lands’ End is my go-to for quality yet reasonably priced winter weather gear. They have two promotions going on right now. Get 30% off select “fall essentials” (not sure exactly what that is but seems like a lot) with code LEAF, PIN 9223 through October 20th. But you can also get 25% off all full-priced merchandise with code MAPLE and PIN 1610 through October 21st. I love my packable down vest so much, I’m seriously considering this packable down jacket from Lands’ End and can’t decide between the polka dots or basic black. I’ve also had this Sport Knit skirt in black in my shopping cart for a while and may pull the trigger now that it’s 30% off.  These and a few other pieces I’m admiring:

Madewell – 30% Off Sale Merchandise

Madewell continues to impress, and a 30% off sale prices makes it easy to buy some fab fall and winter fashion. Use code PICKMEUP, which is valid through October 20th.  I love the classic look of their Otis boot, the unique color and slouchy coolness of their Firelight Pullover, and the perfect color and shape of their Berliner Satchel.

J. Crew – 30% Off Sweaters and Outerwear

Code SHOPFALL will give you 30% off at J. Crew through the 19th of October.  Their Majesty Peacoat truly is perfection and a classic piece that will be chic for years to come; their Jackie Cardigan is always a popular piece and nice to get on sale; and I am loving the pale lavender shade and the cool size zips of this lambswool sweater.

J. Crew Factory – 40-50% off Outerwear and an Additional 30% Off Clearance Merchandise

One of my favorite stores for great style at great prices; 30% off clearance makes it even nicer! Use code YAY30 through the October 19th to save.  As for the deal on outwear and cold-weather accessories, no code is needed.  Some of my favorites like this camo tee (imagine it with something dressy like a sequined or lace pencil skirt or under a denim jacket), this adorable flared leather skirt in black or brown, and this pleated maxi which I own and adore.  As for outerwear, I love the color and details of this coat, find this long hooded belted puffer to be something any city commuter would love, and think the price is nice on these leather tech gloves.

Any sales I missed?  Share them in the comments!

Ask Allie: Career Wear on a Budget

I am a young professional without a “mentor” or any experience in the professional world other than the two years at my current job. I am getting a new boss in January and she is beautiful, powerful, and extremely sharp. I am the girl with the hot pink iPhone case, the ubiquitous plastic venti coffee cup, wearing Teva sandals with my work outfits, trying to pass black jeans as “dress pants,” and still wearing the same bangle bracelets that I had in high school. I desperately need an upgrade in… everything… but I’m broke.

Are there any suggestions that you can make about taking my college student wardrobe and upping my game while still being able to feed my family?

You are not alone. It’s hard to be new and rise the corporate ladder without going into debt. You come into the workforce already with student loans and then have to shell out a lot just to look as though you want the job you fought hard to get. Jobs are hard to get, so you want to show that you care and have the drive but you don’t have the money to build a professional wardrobe from scratch. A few tips:

Thrift It. I know from your email that you’re already hitting Goodwill, but it can be frustrating to weed though racks and racks of faded knit tees in hopes of finding one decent pencil skirt or blazer. Make it a weekly date – find out when they stock the floors and visit that day. Befriend the folks working there – it may just get you a new friend, or it may get you friends who will see pieces and hold them for you or give you a heads up when they are stocking the floor.

While there, consider going up a size or two. A thrifted pair of pants can easily be altered by the nearby dry cleaner, and the price for both is still going to be cheaper than a new pair of pants on the sale rack.

Join Freecycle. My local Freecycle often has people giving away large bags of clothing in a certain size. People who have lost or gained weight, passed away, retired. While a good portion of the bag’s contents may be wrong for you, you could end up with a real gem in the process. And that which doesn’t work, re-Freecycle or donate. Once you have established yourself on your local Freecycle as a person who gives as well as takes (great way to clean out the house of old toys, knick knacks, and that dusty treadmill in your basement), you can request certain things. I did this once and was amazed with the generous people who replied with items or suggestions on how to get what I needed for less or free.

Find Local Swaps and Consignments. Twice a year, my community has a swap where people bring old baby clothing and equipment and trade for that which they need. It has grown to where this swap often has adult clothing. Local fashion blogging communities will often host or know of swaps where for a small price or a bag of clothes to donate, you can attend and pick up some amazing scores. Consignment sales are another place to find thrift-store priced clothing but a more carefully curated collection. At such events, you can also network with other frugal shoppers.

Nothing in your community? Set one up! It can be anything from a happy hour at your home with a few friends and neighbors, or you can set something up at a local community center.

A sample capsule wardrobe of simple pieces: how you can create over 20 different business casual outfits from just eight pieces of clothing.  Every outfit works with black pumps or flats.

Buy Simple. Simple blue oxford, gray pencil skirt, black blazer, plum cardigan, black pants… pieces like these can be mixed and matched a hundred ways to create completely different ensembles. Don’t buy difficult silhouettes that only go with one piece – create a bit of a uniform with few silhouettes so they are more versatile and less memorable.

Prints and bold colors are memorable; stick to neutrals and soft hues until you can afford a larger wardrobe.

Make a Priority List. What holes are in your wardrobe? Focus on those first. Don’t worry that this season is about oxblood or that a pair of leopard shoes would update your look. Get those basics you need to not be naked or in inappropriate fashion at the office. While I usually encourage buying accessories to switch up basics, at this point I’d say save your money. It’s better to go without any accessories at all than to try to make do with cheap pieces or spend your budget on a bracelet.

Unless you find one for an incredible price and it’s gorgeous, focus more on separates than dresses. Separates can mix and match for more outfits, and can better be tailored to fit (or made to look tailored with belts, Stitch Witchery, and strategically placed safety pins).

When you buy, stop and think what in your wardrobe can it work with. If you can’t imagine three outfits, don’t buy it. Even if it’s only $3 or only $5, that’s $3 or $5 you could save for the right wardrobe addition.

Know No One is Keeping Track. It’s okay to wear the same black pants two or three times in a week as long as they are clean. It’s okay to wear the same shoes every day until you can afford more. You can even carry off the same shirt multiple times in one week – one day on its own tucked in to a skirt, another day untucked under a sweater with pants. As long as the pieces are clean, in good condition, and properly pressed no one is going to care. The effect is far more important than the individual pieces.

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Shopping with Intention and Changing Shopping Habits with #Project333

Reader (and friend after all these years) Linda made me aware of the blog, Project 333. Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for three months. Linda has been really interested in minimalism, and recently I have been as well. Linda asked me to think about what 33 pieces from my wardrobe I would save from a fire.

As the next three months are spring/summer, I had to get into the warmer weather state of mind. I went through my outfit posts from last summer and thought about what was currently in my wardrobe. I wanted to consider work of course, but also casual weekends and the occasional date night, concert, wedding, or other social occasion. What I came up with:

Gray leather hobo purse (Banana Republic) | Black leather clutch (HOBO Bags) | Black Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses | Vintage brown leather belt | Black leather and stretch wide belt (Lauren Ralph Lauren) | Black pumps (MICHAEL Michael Kors) | Tan sandals (Softspots) | Orange heeled sandals (Naturalizer) | Black flip flops (Reef) | Black silky slouchy tee (Leith) | Black and white striped shirt (Armour lux) | Printed V-neck tee (OBEY) | White ribbed tank (Caslon) | Chambray shirt (Target) | Gray V-neck tee (Old Navy) | Orange Ikat-print cotton sheath (Maggy London) | Black twill skirt (Limited) | Gold and white floral cotton skirt (Talbots) | Black blazer (Limited) | Orange matte jersey drapey camisole (Ann Taylor) | Black ponte dress (Felicity + Coco) | Pink jersey maxi dress (Gap) | Black cardigan (Only Mine) | Black trousers (Tahari) | Boyfriend jeans (Gap) | Black and white striped tank (Ann Taylor) | White jeans (Kut from the Kloth) | Distressed denim shorts (Target) | Silk Scarf (Liberty) | Cadet blue zebra-print long scarf (Nepali by TDM) | Silver cuff | Silver chain with personal charms | Statement necklace (Etsy)

Trying to use images available in Polyvore, this is only a representation of my actual items (for example the floral dress represents my orange Ikat-print dress). I have linked to the actual pieces when they have been featured on my blog or Instagram (the zebra scarf to the site, the pink dress to an image I found online). However I think this collage gives the right effect.

When thinking what to keep, the most important thing was to have appropriate attire for work. I am lucky to work in a relaxed business casual office, where jeans are acceptable on Fridays and colored denim can make a pass during the week if it’s crisp, saturated color, and dressed up like pants. With this collection, I was able to create 40 different work ensembles for a possible 60 days in the office during a Project 333 period of time.  (I know the actual project suggests swapping only three items at the end of the period of time, I am just trying it in this manner for now.)

What this exercise really did was make me realize how woefully inadequate my current wardrobe is. My body has changed, but I have also had a transition in my personal style. With the warming temperatures, I am finding my closet more and more frustrating, the pieces I currently own so mismatched. I’m trying to buy less, and just filling holes, but it feels as though there’s more holes than current wardrobe. This made me realize that instead of filling holes, I maybe need to start from scratch in some ways. Not buy what works, but what is right. Knowing that the whole season will only be 33 pieces (including shoes and accessories – even sunglasses!) is a relief. When you see it’s only 33 pieces, you don’t feel as much as though you’re going to go bankrupt to dress for a season. I looked at this collection above and felt I could really live with these pieces, and only needed a few minor changes to make it perfect.

Will I be taking part in Project 333? No, at least not now. My blog is my part-time career. I have made my outfit posts a way to offer inspiration and creative ideas for fellow women who may have similar figures or lifestyles. I also use the posts as a way to feature brands I like or have just learned about. However, Project 333 really forced me to look at what I buy and why I buy it; it has also transformed how I plan to shop and dress myself this year. You can expect to see a change in future purchases (as well as more items I will likely be selling on eBay – follow me on Facebook for updates when I am having sales).

The horrible tragedy in Bangladesh really got me thinking about what I buy. One can’t just blame H&M or Forever 21 for such situations, bargain basement to high end designer lines ship their manufacturing and/or fabric weaving to other countries where it can be done for far less. We expect to get more for less and to accommodate, retailers sometimes do shifty things to still make a good profit. Be it purchasing used, or purchasing darn near perfection to reduce how often I spend, I’m trying to make a difference. Project333 really forces one to shop with thought, with a plan, with intention. Imagine if we all shopped with intention instead of in desperation, purchasing good enough, using shopping as therapy or entertainment.  Imagine our wardrobes, they would be full of quality, well-fitting pieces, signature items, pieces that both flatter and inspire.

This won’t be my only post on this topic, I plan to think about what I wish was in my closet for the 333 Project, and how I plan on taking the lessons learned from this with me as I do shop, and how it will affect my fall/winter wardrobe.

What do you think of Project 333? How does it make it look at your current wardrobe and your shopping habits?

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Ask Allie: Budget Friendly Interview Attire

I have decided to get a new job and find a healthier work environment. Thing is I don’t own a suit and I can’t spend more than $150 on interview clothes. Any suggestions on where to get a suit?

While you may luck out on the clearance rack of Ann Taylor or Banana Republic (and it can happen, I have a great matching blazer, pencil skirt and trousers from AT that cost under $200 thanks to coupons and clearance), you can’t guarantee that you’ll have success in time for your first interview. Some may recommend thrifting or consignment, but for an interview you need to put your best foot forward and again you can’t guarantee finding the right size and style in pristine quality in time.

I conduct interviews quite regularly at my job, for positions of all levels, and I have to say not wearing a suit is preferable to some cobbled together attempt at a jacket and trousers or skirt. It’s also preferable to wearing an obviously cheap suit. I’ve interviewed individuals with hems obviously stapled to the correct length, women in shiny tight Girls Night Out pants with a gabardine blazer, casual twill blazers with suiting trousers, tight thin knit skirts with a too-big power blazer clearly borrowed from Mom, and the cheap shiny hot pink pantsuit with beaded lapels and rhinestone buttons. Though these individuals strived to create a professional appearance, they focused too much on the need to create a suit than the need to create a polished, professional appearance.

So what do you do when you have limited time and funds but want to put your best foot forward for job interviews? Here’s some suggestions on how to create a professional look with few resources:

You Have Great Trousers (or a Great Skirt) but No Matching Suit Jacket

Great trousers means they fit – they don’t bag, they don’t hug your rear and thighs, they are the appropriate length (no ankle bone showing, no dragging on the ground). They are of a professional fabric (not shiny, not cotton twill, not stretchy), and likely lined to provide better drape and fit. These trousers are in a classic color – black, gray, brown, taupe, navy, possibly a dark muted green or wine.

A great skirt is a straight or pencil skirt that fits well, doesn’t ride up, doesn’t hug the rear, doesn’t wrinkle during a car or bus ride, hits the knees, and lets you walk a comfortable confident stride. It should be of a professional fabric and lined, free of embellishment and trendy details.

budget friendly interview outfit pants skirt
Pair with:

A crisp white shirt, necklace, and pumps. Purchase a wrinkle-resistant shirt that’s opaque and fits properly (no bulging buttons, not oversized, correct sleeve length), wear tucked into the trousers, and add a classic necklace that adds some shine. A pair of leather pumps in the same color as the trousers or skirt with an almond or pointed toe will look elegant, professional, and be a useful purchase after the interview.

A suiting blazer of the same fabric but different color and a blouse the same color as one or the other. Take your trousers shopping, or note the fabric composition on the tag and look for a jacket that is the same or extremely similar. However, don’t try to match grays or blacks because 99% of the time it won’t work and you’ll look sloppy. To get the most mileage of this jacket, choose one free of patterns and details, one that is a classic cut (no double breasted buttons, no cropped or perma-rolled sleeves, no creative collars), and in another neutral (black, gray, navy, taupe, ivory, cream).

By having your blouse (and with a mix like this I encourage a blouse, not a crisp shirt or a knit shell) either the same color as the jacket or the bottom, it creates cohesiveness and a purposeful look. Add interest with a necklace, belt (if applicable), and a confident smile.

If You Have a Great Jacket but No Trousers or Skirt

A great jacket means it fits GREAT, and to fit great it likely has been to the tailor. Sleeves the right length, shoulders in the right place, able to button without straining, not too tight but not oversized. The jacket is of a professional fabric (no twill, knit, denim, or anything with a shine), lined, and a classic cut. In this situation, a color is acceptable but it shouldn’t be too bold of a hue (bright yellow, lime green, orange, hot pink), or have trendy details (statement buttons, creative lapels, cut-outs, colorblocking or a print).

what to wear to an interview no suit
Pair with:

A suiting skirt or trousers and a blouse of the same color. Take the same advice above, and create a polished and cohesive look with a neutral blouse and trousers and a classic pair of pumps.

A professional tailored dress. This is not your pink floral rayon fit and flare frock, it’s not your striped ponte tee shirt dress, and it is never anything with spaghetti straps, cutouts (even if hidden under the jacket), or anything that is above the knee. Best choice is a sheath dress with a classic neckline (V, not too low scoop, crew or jewel neck), lined, and a fabric that coordinates with the jacket. Second choice is a dress that has a defined waist (self belt or banded waistband) and hits mid-knee to top of calf in a coordinating fabric. It’s important for this dress to have a tailored fit; a blazer over a loose dress will look sloppy and encourage creases.

Coordinating fabric means both of the same composition (see above), or fabrics that flatter one another (silk with crepe, wool with tweed, that sort of thing). If you’re not sure about coordinating fabrics I say to NOT go with this direction. It can be confusing, and too easy to go the wrong way.

If You Have Nothing and Need to Start From Scratch

Buy a Dress. Seriously, forgo the suit and get a professional dress in a solid color or subdued pattern. Pair with leather pumps in a neutral, wear a simple necklace, have polished hair and makeup and a nice bag and you will look far more competent and serious than in a hodgepodge of so-called professional attire.

No sheer portions or cutouts, no cleavage, no twee prints, trendy details, or overly vintage silhouettes. A sleeve is a very good idea, and the length should hit the knees. The style should skim the figure (more professional than a shift or sack dress), and be of a substantial fabric and/or lined. A few options under $150:

Do you have any suggestions for this reader?

My Personal Shopping Rules

When shopping for clothing, it is so easy to get off track. Maybe you need a new pair of trousers, but by time you leave the mall you have several bags and none of them contain a pair of pants. It’s also easy to get off track when it comes to your personal style. You are a hopeless romantic who feels at home in ruffles and flounces, but after some pressure from a very enthusiastic salesperson you find yourself at home with a very structured severe black sheath dress.

I have found the best way to stay on track is to have a list and take it with you. I have a small note pad I got at a drugstore that I keep in my purse. I date the sheet and write my shopping list. I never toss the list because looking at old lists help you remember not only what you own, but the style of your wardrobe and life. These lists for me are like a mini journal of my life – a list including a bathing suit and flip flops in August, a cocktail dress in December, silver shoes for when I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, a new pair of jeans to celebrate a weight loss.

In this little notebook I not only keep lists of what I need, but also what I believe. What fashion “rules” do I hold for myself? Each woman’s “rules” will be different. At first you may not know your personal style, but you do know what you will NOT wear. Making this list will help you leave the mall or boutique with only purchases that make you feel good – be it more ruffles instead of structured shapes, or leather instead of lace. Here is my list of fashion “rules,” ones that over time I have felt fit me, and fit many other women.



1. Color over Neutrals. Color makes me look thinner, as though I have a better complexion, am younger. Color makes cheaply made clothing look more expensive. When I feel glum, putting on a bright cheery color automatically makes me smile.

2. Never Let Lingerie Show. I was raised to never have a bra strap or panty line show. Trends come and go where it seems acceptable to have lingerie peek out of sweaters, jackets, and blouses. I have never succumbed to those trends and never will. On top of that, if an item requires a fancy-dancy backless/halter/strapless/zero-gravity bra that I do not already own, I won’t buy the garment. And if an item requires me to pin, tape, suck, squish or cover up part of it to make my current lingerie work, again I won’t purchase.

3. Prints to a Minimum. I am not a prints person. When I start buying printed items, I start finding I wear those items less often – so rarely they are not worth their purchase price. Prints are memorable, less able to be coordinated with multiple items in my closet, so they are purchased sparingly.

4. I Don’t Go to Cocktail Parties. This is something I have to say to myself on a regular basis. I am constantly drawn to sequins, beading, shimmer, shine. I love cocktail dresses, silky camisoles, contrast outfits like fitted tee with ball skirts and cashmere turtlenecks with sequined minis. However I do not have a lifestyle for such a wardrobe. I go to places that warrant such attire maybe twice a year, so I try to get my bling-fix in necklaces I can wear to work as well as play, and fun clutches and purses that I can use to jazz up my arsenal of LBDs that can work for a day wedding or that unexpected cocktail party.

5. Accept it, Your Arms, Breasts and Calves are Not Standard Size. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing to try to zip up tall boot after tall boot, try to wiggle skinny rigid jeans up past my ankle or have a short-sleeved oxford or shirtdress fit over my limbs and bust. Even when I was a size 4 I couldn’t wear such items because my calves, breasts, and arms are just bigger than fit models. This doesn’t mean I am unattractive or deformed, it just means I should wear other items. And I have to remind myself that even if I can fit it, if it feels tight and awkward, it will look tight and awkward.

6. Don’t Buy it If It’s Not Comfortable. I am not one to live in sweats, and I despise when people tell me they buy items purely because they are comfortable. However I don’t believe in pain for the sake of style. There is a happy balance. I won’t wear something that restricts my arms, pulls on my back, won’t let me walk three blocks to and from the Metro to my office, forces me to suck in my stomach so that buttons won’t pop, when I take it off I have marks from where the item zipped or cinched.

7. You Aren’t a Girly-Girl. Yes, I am occasionally drawn to calico prints, ruffles, lace, flounce. A romantic blouse, a vintage-inspired dress. Then I get it home and realize I have no shoes, no jewelry, no other wardrobe items to work with it. I have to change my makeup, I need to change my hair, my purse doesn’t fit with the look. Instead of reinventing the wheel, don’t buy the wheel.

8. You Hate Black Purses. This is a weird one, and one I have learned over time. Black makes sense – I wear a lot of black and colors that look great with black. Most of my pants are black, shoes are black. However every time I buy a black purse I don’t like it for some reason – it’s too stark, it’s too somber, it’s too wrong. I currently own two black bags – a casual shoulder bag for day and a satin clutch for night. Both are collecting dust and are constant reminders for me to not make that mistake again.

9. Loose Items Don’t Make You (or anyone) Look Smaller. When I am between two size, I often catch myself choosing the larger one because I fear the smaller one will make me look like a sausage. The thing is, usually the smaller one fits, and the larger one is loose. Loose is comfortable, loose is safe. However, loose makes my unusually large arms look larger, my bust look bustier, my tummy look as though it’s wrapped in a diaper. As a petite woman, fit is of the utmost importance – a dress that is too long in the torso will make a hump in my lower back, show my bra under my arms, cause pants to droop in the rise. Slight adjustments – going with the smaller of two fitting sizes, choosing petite will make me look slimmer and make my clothes look more expensive.

10. If you Love it, Buy Two. I am not ashamed to own the same item in multiple colors. I have been known to buy the same trousers in threes – one in gray and two in black. No one is keeping tally, seeing how many different pairs of black pants you own. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I have the same wrap dress from Ann Taylor – one in solid black and one in a blue print. I have the same trousers from Gap – two pairs of white and one of oxford gray. Same with a pair of trousers from Semantiks – one in black, one in brown. When I worked retail and my employer expected us to wear all black I had five pairs of the same pants – they fit great, held up well after a long day, and could be thrown in the washer and dryer.

11. Unless it’s Formalwear or a Suit, if it’s Truly Dry Clean Only, Leave it on the Hanger. I have items in the trunk of my car that need to go to the cleaners. They have been there since Emerson was four months old. If I do actually get to the cleaners, I then forget the items are there and don’t pick them up for months. Many items (merino wool, synthetic fabrics, matte jersey) claim to be dry clean only, but aren’t. You won’t see me in much wool, silk, heavily embellished items or delicate fabrics. I don’t have the lifestyle for them. Not worth to buy if they spend most of their life in my car or at the cleaners!

What are your “rules?” What do you follow to stick to a wardrobe that fits not just your body, but your personality and life?

Tuesday and Shopping Update

Sorry for pics before my hair was dry.  Running a bit late today, and with this humidity, my hair was still a bit damp even by time I got to the office!

 Now it’s all full and beachy waves and goes far better with the dress.

Dress: LOFT, picked up during their Friends & Family event last week
Belt: Vintage
Shoes: Sofft
Bracelet: Twisted Silver

I actually bought quite a lot of stuff from Ann Taylor & Ann Taylor LOFT for their Friends & Family event.  And all is going back except this dress (which I honestly think will look better next week when I’m not all PMS-y bloated).

What I got from LOFT:
Petite Abstract Waves Woven Dress – This is the dress I am wearing.  I have to say if I didn’t have the F&F discount and a store credit, this dress wouldn’t be worth it.  It’s polyester, and that weird textured crepe polyester that from far away may look like silk but once you touch it you know it’s synthetic something.  Super super simple pattern, no fancy details.  The waist is elasticized and covered with a black grosgrain ribbon which on its own looks very much as though something is missing.  The dress has side pockets which is what made me consider returning this dress – the pockets make the sides stick out a bit weird, and make it look as though it’s junk in my trunk and not extra fabric.  I may use Stitch Witchery to close them up.

However I kept this dress because it’s lightweight, it’s summery, I know it will look better if I lose weight or bloat, and my husband told me I look hot in it. :)

Petite Flutter Silk Dress – I saw this in several magazines and thought it looked gorgeous.  Also thought it could be a nice red wardrobe replacement for my “secretary dress.” 

First, the dress doesn’t flutter.  It’s packed so those ruffles lie completely flat.  Smooshed flat, and the ruffles have raw edges so it just looks as though the dress is inside-out.  I tried hanging the dress in the bathroom while I took a shower, thinking the steam may help flutter up the ruffles but no, they still looked awful.  Oh, and the dress is see-through, like could see the lace on my skin-colored bra.  And petite?  I actually had to double-check the label and packing slip because this “petite” dress hot me mid-calf.  FAIL.

Pleated Collar Shell – This doesn’t seem to be still in stock, and may be because it was on sale.  Anyway, it is a lightweight cotton voile (like my lovely JNY top), looked to have a deep notch v-neck with a multi-ruffled stand collar.  The color was called Poppy Red, which looked more like hibiscus or watermelon to me.

This was NOT petite but it fit like it.  Raised my hands and you could see my belly.  It fit nicely over the bust, but was tight over the midsection (when does THAT happen?).  The collar didn’t stand as well as I would like because the fabric was so soft.  And the neckline didn’t fall open so it looked like a high-necked shell with a deflated clown collar.  Another FAIL.

What I got from Ann Taylor:
Denim Pencil Skirt – At the time of my order, they didn’t have 14 petite in stock.  And after the skin-tight scary denim skirt I recently got from Gap, I was thinking maybe I should stick with 16.  No 16 petite.  So I ordered 16.

Yep, I am a 14 petite.  This skirt is far too big.  Even though I was swimming in this skirt, and even when I pulled it up to my ribcage it still hit below my knees, I knew it was a good choice.  So good I am going to exchange it.  The denim is heavy enough to not be clingy, but not so heavy that it looks stiff.  It has fantastic seaming that enhance a curvy figure, a tiny kickpleat, a gorgeous dark hue that looks like real denim, but is totally work appropriate.  I hate that my local Ann Taylor doesn’t offer petites over 12 in their shop, so I have to order online.  But I really think the 14 petite will be a great fit and just what I have been looking for.  WIN.

Petite Cotton/Silk Blouse - No longer online but it was on mondo sale at the time of Friends & Family.  Anyway, it is a gorgeous bright pink, is a non-stretchy cotton/silk blend shell with size zipper at the bottom side.  The scoopneck is trimmed with small stiff ruffles.  Fully lined.

If I wore suits on a regular basis, I would keep this top.  The neckline is super flattering, the color and fabric gorgeous, it fit well, slightly loose in the body but no bra showing under the arms and more of a conservative fit perfect for Corporate America.  However alone, it looked like a suiting shell.  It is seamed, very tailored, and I couldn’t make it look fun with trousers, skirts, or jeans.  Not a FAIL, but not an Allie WIN.

Coralized Micro CZ Pendant Necklace – The one I got is no longer online, but it’s sorta similar to this.  The one I got has a longer, thinner chain and is solid gold with little CZ dots, no mother of pearl in the center.  I think it’s a cute pendant, like the old brushed gold look, and can totally see it this fall with simple dresses and come winter it will be fab with a merino turtleneck and a pair of dark slim jeans.  the chain is adjustable, which is always a big plus with me.  I always have major success with Ann Taylor jewelry!

My Savvy Shopping Tips…

I am often asked how I can afford all I purchase, and how I am able to maintain a
wardrobe without giung into debt. Well here’s a few of the things I do when shopping (most of my shopping is done online).

1. Credit card debt won’t help you… but credit cards occasionally will. I have made a concerted effort the past couple of years to get out of credit card debt. If there isn’t cash in my checking account, there isn’t a garment that will be purchased. Credit cards are too easy, you can say, “oh I’ll pay it off with my next paycheck,” but then you forget and interest starts racking up. To avoid temptation, I have gotten rid of most of my credit cards.

Most, but not all.

Some credit cards are beneficial, if you take care of the accounts. Often, a store card has a lot of perks for the user; if you shop at that company regularly it may be in your best interest to have a credit card with them. For example, I have a Banana Republic credit card. Banana Republic offers its Luxe cardholders (I have had the card for over a decade so I am Luxe) free shipping at Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy online. Many promotional emails are sent only to cardholders, and I receive coupons in the mail almost monthly. When I make a purchase on my Banana Republic card, I immediately head to my checking account’s online banking and write a check for the exact amount I spent. No interest is accrued, yet I still rack up points towards savings rewards with the company. This concept also works for major credit cards that help you rack up miles or points.

2. Google it. There are two ways that Google can save you money. First, before you enter your shopping cart at an online retailer, Google the retailer’s name and something like, “promotional code,” “discount,” or “coupon.” Usually within your first three clicks you will find out whether there are any available discounts for that retailer. Nine times out of ten, this five-minute Internet search saves me shipping costs, and sometimes gets me free gifts with purchase or even 25% off my entire order.

Google also helps when trying to find the lowest price. Say you fell in love with a pair of Franco Sartos at Nordstrom. You tried them on, they fit great and look even better. Before dropping dough on these shoes, get the style name and head to your computer. Googling the brand and style name of the shoe will help you find the lowest-price retailer, or at least a company that offers free shipping and returns or No Final Sale (always great if what you believe to be comfy shoes end up tearing your heel in half by lunchtime).

3. Shop through another site. I personally am loving Ebates, where in just one month I have made over $10 cash for normal online shopping. Ebates is a free service that works with hundreds of online retailers – get to your favorite company through the Ebates Web site and you will get back a percentage of your purchase in cash.

There are many other sites that do this; one of my best friends uses Upromise for this to help pay off her student loans, and many love Points.com to collect points toward flights and hotel stays.

4. Check eBay. I never purchase a new bag at full price. Purse owners are often fickle, getting a new one and tiring of it a month later. By checking eBay for the brand and style name or number of a bag I am coveting, I can always find a few sellers offering new or gently used versions of the bag at major discounts. This spring I bought a bag I was drooling over at Banana Republic for 50% off on eBay. Bag came in mint condition, just sans price tag. Two years ago, I purchased a different bag through eBay and got it 60% off the current retail price, with the tags still attached and the dust cover.

I also do this with style names and brands I know. Maggy London, Banana Republic and Gap dresses look great on me; I search eBay by brand name and then size and can often find last year’s styles in mint condition (often with tags still attached) or this year’s style new or gently used for a great price. If you know what you want and shop with a reliable seller, it makes sense to first check eBay.

5. Make a list and check it twice. You go to a Web site to purchase jeans and 30 minutes later, your total is for over $1200 and not a speck of denim is in your shopping cart. Cresting a list of what you need each season will help you stay on track, benefit your budget, and make dressing easier each day. Who need another printed top when you don’t have the proper trousers or skirt to pair with it? Do you homework – read magazines, visit blogs, watch RV and get a sense of what is in style this season and what appeals to you. Then narrow down that list to what will flatter your frame and work with your lifestyle. Make a list and put it in your wallet or purse so it is with you every time you shop. Tell yourself you won’t buy anything else until you acquire these essentials. Items like new bras, jeans, swimwear and the perfect black pants are hard to find, and the search can be utter torture. It’s very tempting to give up and buy a great purse or little frock. Problem is come Monday you will be crying in front of your closet because you have nothing to wear. So stick to your list and you’ll save and be more stylish!

Reader Question – Shopping for Swimwear

Reader Laurie asked:

I am wondering where you shop for swimwear. I have a body type very similar, although I’ve got quite a few years on you (55). I am in decent shape, would like a tank suit with medium high cut legs, but need a D cup underwire, if possible, or at the very least, good support for the girls. I don’t want to look 18 but I also don’t want to look 80 – difficult to find that middle ground. Any suggestions?

Hey Laurie:

Swimsuit shopping can be one of the most horrific experiences for a woman. Suits that have proper support often make one look heavier and older than reality, and cute suits usually don’t have the proper fabric or cut to flatter anyone but a pre-teen. As with any purchase, I recommend going for quality with a swimsuit so it fits, flatters, and maintains its shape and condition after many seasons in the sun, sand and chlorine.

My favorite place for swimwear is Lands End. They have a really extensive collection; you can shop by body type (minimize shoulders and bust, tummy control, minimize hips and thighs, plus size, petite, tall, maternity, even mastectomy suits) or by cut (leg height, bra type silhouette). I bought one of their faille tankinis in 2002 for a trip to Jamaica and that suit still fits, has maintained its shape and elasticity and also the color. Can’t say that for many suits these days!

I love this adjustable bandeau swim top from Lands End; it can be strapless, halter, or regular straps. The side rouching is adjustable so you can have a gathered top or more of a swim dress. UPF 50 swim protection and specially made for a D-cup figure. This is part of a mix and match line so you can easily find a bottom that flatters your figure. Black is a safe bet, but I think a color can be more fun and less looking like “I wear black because I don’t like my body.” Try a hot pink or aqua for a pretty yet not teeny-bopper hue.

How about a custom suit? This halter tank can be made by Lands End to your specifications. I am adoring the Coastal Green color too!

Another place I have had luck at is the store Everything But Water. You can shop by designer, silhouette or even D-cup online, and I have found the stores to have a very good selection year-round. This pretty black one-piece by Christina with a flower design is quite elegant.

In the past I have found many cute suits from J. Crew, however this year their D-cup line has dwindled to boring one-pieces and a handful of bikini tops. Pretty unfortunate and surprising as that so many companies are starting to see the need for the not-your-average-size suit.

I have been pleased with the suits at Athleta. Known as a place to buy activewear, Athleta also has a large selection of street wear and swimsuits that are great for kayaking, or even lounging at the pool.

I love Athleta’s halter one-piece. Simple, elegant, flattering and made for the larger busted woman with a floating underwire and shirring. Their quality is awesome; a suit like this can give you years of wear.

Hope this helps, good luck with your search!

Outlet Mall Shopping

Yesterday I visited a major outlet mall in my area. Over a mile of stores – some with great bargains, some with great piles of crap. There have been many stories about discount stores – how some of the product is not on sale, the clothes are made specifically for the outlet and are not the same quality that the brand name usually delivers, etc. After all that, you find designer duds for less, when is it worthwhile to spend, when should a bargain be passed by?


Fit
If it doesn’t fit well for $300, still doesn’t fit well for $150 and even for $65, don’t buy it. Just because it’s a great bargain does not make the fit any better. Shoes that are too tight or too big, jackets that pull at the back, pants that would be lovely if you just lost 15 lbs., no matter the bargain these items should just stay on the rack.

If the jacket’s sleeves are too long, the skirt’s hem at an awkward length, the shoulders a bit too big, these things can be altered easily by a tailor. You must be in love with the piece and find multiple places and ways to wear it to justify the tailor expense. I found a cream silk linen suit at a discount store – the suit fit perfectly except for a broken zipper and too long of sleeves and legs. I bought the suit for $65, regularly $350, and for $40 had the zipper and hems all modified. I have worn the suit to work, to religious events and as separates for three years. That purchase was worth the added tailoring expense.


Style
Often times the items at the discount store are there because they are leftover from last season. When it comes to classic pieces like suits, dresses and knits, this is not a problem. A blue merino v-neck is lovely almost every year, and more lovely when 50% off. The problem comes with the trendy p[pieces.


If Lindsay, Mischa, Nicole or Chloe was wearing it last spring, it’s a good chance that piece is passé now. Pass on the embellished jeans, the metallic leather bags, the rainbow-hued sunglasses and most other accessories. Just because it’s on sale does not mean it is a good buy. When it comes to scouring outlets, your best deals are the ones that will last through more than one season. Sweaters, suits, outerwear, cocktail dresses, leather goods and most shoes are great bargains if you find quality and value in the same item.


Name Brands
Just because you found a pair of Manolo Blahniks for $100 at the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet does not mean they need to be purchased. Do they fit your current style? Are they comfortable? Are they current or classic?

We have all seen the label whores – those women with a Coach purse, Jimmy Choo shoes that JLo wore last year, Baby Phat jeans, a Bebe tee with the rhinestone logo, Chanel sunglasses and a Pucci scarf in her hair. These items weren’t bought for the quality or the style. They were bought because a stranger could spot the brand a mile away. She looks trashy, obvious and victimized by fashion. None of these are appealing. Labels do not suddenly make you well dressed or well liked.


If you can find a Furla bag for 40% off and it suits your style as well as lifestyle – then go for it. If you are buying a bag purely because it’s Prada and you don’t like the style, size or fabric… well you have become a label whore.

Don’t buy that jacket just because it’s designer. Pretend that it is an unknown label – do you still like it? Do you still find it attractive and necessary? If not, put it back on the rack. That goes for ill-fitting designer duds, last season’s “It Bag,” obvious logo advertising (if it’s that obvious, it will be that obvious from last season – not worth your time or money) and damaged designer goods.


Damaged Goods
Many discount retailers sell the irregulars from a label. Some irregulars can barely be seen by the naked eye – may be an incorrect dye lot or the wrong buttons sewn on a jacket. Some may work in your favor – pants cut too short or sleeves that are too long or too narrow. Often times these stores received the garments that were damaged in production, transit or through many jaunts to the fitting room. Broken zippers, missing buttons, fabric snags are all defects that can easily be repaired or covered up if the price and style is right. However there are other defects that are not worth the purchase, no matter how low the price. Runs in nylon, stains, button holes at the wrong height, linings that do not align with the trouser, two pieces stitched together from two different dye lots. Even if it is Versace, it will look like Gallo Clothing on you if it is this defective.


Buying in Bulk
I used to be a huge fan of buying in bulk – find a tee shirt you love, buy it in eight colors and three of white and black. Flattering trousers? Buy one in every color. I then found that my wardrobe was like one big uniform… one big boring uniform. Mixing basics with fun pieces offers versatility, ease but individual style.


At outlet malls, buying in bulk is a good idea. Yesterday I was at the Banana Republic outlet and found high quality stretchy tees in tons of colors – $9.99 each. I bought one in black, one in white, one in gray and one in red. These shirts can be worn with jeans on weekends, with a little skirt for happy hour with the girls or under a suit for work. I found a great pair of wool trousers at Off Fifth, bought them in brown, gray and black. They were so standard and fit so amazingly well (and were only $39.99 each) that it was worthwhile to buy every color I liked. I knew with my work and lifestyle I would find regular use for such trousers. Another time I found a pair of really cute studded pointy heels from NYLA. They were 75% off and tres cute. I decided to buy them in hot pink, ivory and black, thinking that if they fit well, they would get much use. I was imagining sparkly tops and designer jeans with the ivory, a sexy power suit with the black, and envisioned an outfit a la Carrie Bradshaw for the pink. I took them all home, have worn the pink ones multiple times, and have barely touched the other two. I don’t wear designer jeans with sparkly tops on a regular basis, and don’t own a single chic black power suit. Those two shoes have barely seen the light of day. Consider your current lifestyle when considering to buy in bulk – items that look too familiar may not be worn and too many of the same thing may make them all too boring to regularly wear. Also, if you don’t wear red patent stilettos now, you probably won’t after purchasing a pair.


In conclusion, don’t buy just because of a label, or just because of an amazing price. Less money for an item is still money, and money should be spent carefully. Be willing to take the time to find quality purchases, not pick up every shiny bauble that sort of resembles what Gwen or Jessica wore last Spring. Fashion is not about the specific item, but the allover look. A Louis Vuitton bag or a pair of Chanel sunglasses will not make you a fashionista, the pairing with appropriate and complimentary pieces is what takes you from being a label whore or a fashion victim to fashionista status.

I Went Shopping…

Yesterday was pretty hectic at work. I met my good friend at the mall for some retail therapy.

At Aldo I got a silver pleather clutch for $9.99. It’s funky, kitchy, and perfectly adorable with a black outfit and my trademark silver jewelry. They had a great sale on shoes and bags.

At Ann Taylor (who I ADORE) I headed straight for their sale section. The black merino turtle I have been sporting lately I found in a dusty rose/salmon color. $29.99. I also found some tweed pants to match – shades of cream, brown, tan, coral and rose. $34.99. I also bought a pair of ivory crisp trousers. Flat front, creased leg, stiff sueded twill. I know, I know I own like 50,000 pairs of ivory/cream/winter white trousers but they always look so smart and there is always a pair at the cleaners! They were $39.99. Then I had my Love Cures card which gave me 15% off the purchase. Score!

Today I am wearing the merino turtle with the tweed trousers. Camel pointy pumps on the feet. Sivler hoops and silver cuff.

I forgot my camera at home, so you get the picture of me in the office elevator at the end of the day.

Makeup is the usual foundation, concealer and blush. Pale dusty pink shadow over the lids of my eyes, Damson in the crease and along the lash line. Another of the mini lipglosses I got for Christmas on my lips – this one is a brick color. Ended up looking like a darker version of the sweater. Hair is straight, deep part for sideswept bangs, tucked behind one ear. I used a good dose of BioSilk in my hair as that the winter is wreaking havock on my tresses. BioSilk is a great product, good glosser for the hair that doesn’t look greasy, and a great moisturizer for the skin too! I got mine free with purchase at Trade Secret about two years ago – a trial size bottle I still haven’t used half of (a little goes a looooong way!).

Today we are leaving for the beach. I plan to trade the tweed trousers for a pair of vintage Gap jeans and my black boots.

What if I Hate Shopping?

I think one reason women are famous for loving shoe shopping is because no matter what mood you are in, how many extra pounds you are carrying, what hips you inherited from your mother, shoes fit and are sexy, fashionable and fun.

Woman can not live on shoes alone, so how does one make the trek out of the shoe department and into the rest of the mall more appealing? How does one survive the fluorescent lights, the snooty salespeople, the tiring hikes from one end of a mall to the other?

PROPER ATTIRE. Yes, there is proper shopping attire. What you choose to wear can make or break your shopping experience.

1. The proper undergarments. The best undergarments are those that are the most flattering under clothes, and the most invisible under clothes. A seamless bra with great support in a nude color is a wise choice. It’s hard to really know the tranparency of a white shirt when you are wearing a black bra. Same with your underwear. A skin toned pair that does not show panty lines, and give a smooth look under clothing is a good choice.

2. Comfortable shoes in a height you regularly wear. You may look positively fabu in those spiky heels, but your feet will be very angry after just a few stores. A pair of casual flip flops are not the best option either. If you plan to shop for trousers, wear shoes with the heel height you would wear most often with trousers. If you are shopping for skirts, it’s not the best idea to wear boots and socks – it is pretty much impossible to know how shorts, capris or a skirt will look when wearing socks. A great choice is a mule, a slide, or a pair of pumps – shoes with a comfortable fit, a familiar height, easy to slip on and off and would flatter your legs as you try on clothes.

3. Wrinkle-resistant attire. Not the best idea to wear linen trousers when you plan on pulling them on and off over and over again in stuffy cramped fitting rooms. After two stores, you will look like a discarded shopping bag and grimace every time you catch a glimpse of yourself in a shop window. Knits, matte jersey, synthetic blends – you cannot go wrong and you will feel comfortable all day.

4. Dress to impress. I have over ten years of retail experience and though I hate to admit it, salespeople do judge their customers by their appearance. If there are ten customers and only one salesperson, that salesperson will approach the best dressed person first. Usually those who are well dressed will spend more money. This doesn’t mean you need to wear a dress or suit to the mall. A nice sweater and a pair of trousers, capris or fashion denim will suffice. They will hold up through many changing rooms, and you will maintain a polished look.

5. Accessorize! Wearing the jewelry you would normally wear with an outfit will help your try-on seem more realistic and appealing. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing these pieces to the mall, bring them in your purse. If you are shopping for a job interview – bring your pearls. For a wedding… bring your chandelier earrings or wrap.

6. Do your hair and face. Without a polished face, those fluorescent lights are even more brutal. Somehow a greasy ponytail and a blank face in a department store fitting room can make you look like a convict. Also, it’s hard to see if a color is good with your skin tone, or a neckline is flattering if you don’t look like how you normally look when wearing that type of clothing. Bring powder and lipstick to reapply after multiple trying-ons.

I promise that if you follow these suggestions, you will have a more pleasurable shopping experience once you actually find clothes worthy of trying on.

Now, how do you find clothes? It is an awful experience walking into stores and not finding a single flattering or properly fitting article of clothing. Nothing is more depressing than taking a huge handful of clothing into a fitting room and none of it fits. Here are some tips to having more shopping success:

1. Judge a book by it’s cover: The look of the window displays, the marketing throughout the store, the type of music playing over the speakers, and most importantly – the attire and style of the salespeople will tell you quickly what type of clothes are sold in that store. Why even waste your time walking into a store playing loud club music, salespeople in electric green eye makeup, store window mannequins in leather micro minis and halter tops when you are shopping for an interview suit for a government agency? Yes, you may find a gem in an unexpected store, but save that gem hunt for days when you have your base wardrobe, feel good about your collection and are looking for great pieces to accent.

2. Map out your journey. Before wandering aimlessly through the mall, getting frustrated by the step, start out with a map or a directory of a mall. Circle where the stores you want to visit are. This will give you focus and a goal. You will waste less time too.

It’s great to online pre-window shop before heading out for a day of shopping. Websites usually set the tone for the type of clothing that is sold in a store, the color stories they plan to focus on that season and the major trends that they will be showcasing.

3. Make a grocery list. It is so easy to get off track in malls if you don’t have your priorities clearly defined. For each store you enter have your mantra: “Black pants, pencil skirt. Black pants, pencil skirt.” This will help you search harder for said needed items, and help prevent spending your budget on that awesome green sequined mini skirt that goes with nothing and will do nothing for you except blow your budget and stuff your closet with yet another item that will go to the Goodwill in ten years with the price tags still attached.

A bikini wax is not fun, but necessary if you want to look good on the beach in a skimpy bathing suit. A gym workout is not always fun, but necessary to fit into that great dress for your high school reunion. Underwire bras are not the most comfortable things, but necessary if you have medium to large breasts and want them to look perky and well-shaped. Same with shopping. There may be 50,000 things you would like to do more than spend the better part of a day at the mall, but it’s necessary to get the wardrobe you need and deserve – a proper collection of clothing that will flatter, support your lifestyle, and make you feel more confident and attractive.

Budget-friendly Fave – Old Navy Vintage Tee

This weekend my husband caught a bug so I took Emerson to a nearby strip mall to keep her entertained and have the house quiet so Karl could sleep. We grabbed a snack at Starbucks, went to say hi to the animals at PetSmart, and went into Old Navy. I only planned on checking out the clearance rack for Emerson, possibly grabbing a pair of shorts or pajamas, but we walked through the women’s department and they had a table full of perfectly-heathered and worn vintage tees.

While these shirts came in a variety of necklines, I was drawn to the v-neck. Without trying it on, I grabbed one in a heathered purpley blue (not online). I bought a Large; though the Medium may have worked, I figured such a tee would be better too large than too small. I got home, tried it on, and fell in love.

The heathering is perfect – not too extreme, a true vintage look and feel. The shirt is soft and weathered, but completely opaque. the v-neck is deep enough to look feminine, but high enough to not expose too much. It’s fitted, but not too fitted, the perfect length where you could tuck it in, or slouch it on the hips untucked. I had a hard time choosing a color as almost all of them look pretty darn fabulous and classic. This weekend I wore the tee with a pair of denim cutoffs, after washing and drying (it shrank only slightly but otherwise looks the same), I wore it again today untucked with white bootcut jeans, silver beaded necklaces and yellow heeled sandals. I can see wearing it with my Talbots Garden skirt and a wristful of colorful bangles, with a white blazer and distressed jeans, with a hot pink pleated skirt and a printed scarf at the throat. It’s the type of tee that usually costs $80 at the department store, but right now at Old Navy it’s on sale for $8.50.

There are some negative reviews, so I believe that like other retailers, the quality is based upon the factory where the tee was made. I can recall when I worked for Express I preferred their Metro tees made in the Mariana Islands for they had the right weight and amount of stretch compared to supposedly the same tees made in other countries. The tee I am wearing and loving is made in Vietnam.

When I find a budget-friendly fave, I just have to share it with you. The next time you visit Old Navy, check out their vintage v-neck tees – while the blue and medium gray are classics, don’t discount the dark pink, light purple or yellow for a subtle pop of color that can dress up and down with ease and may possibly become your favorite tee in your wardrobe!

Beautiful jewelry such as an art deco bracelet and more.

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How I Shop

I worked in retail for a decade. I was a personal shopper, retail manager, apparel visual merchandiser, salesperson racing from fitting room to denim wall to register. Because of this, I enter a mall maybe twice a year, and always at off-peak times.

I also don’t shop in malls because I find them frustrating, overwhelming, and demoralizing.

Near my office, there is an Ann Taylor, a Gap, a Nordstrom Rack, and a few other shops. Near my home on my way to the bank or Emerson’s dance class there’s a Marshall’s, a Ross, an Old Navy, a Target, and a couple smaller shops. I will occasionally shop these retailers if I have time or they are near my necessary errand locations, but otherwise I shop online.


I shop online because the selection is better.
I shop online because I have flattering lighting.
I shop online because I trust my own mirror.
I shop online because I am then never pushed to buy something by someone who doesn’t know or care about me.
I shop online so I can be sure the item works with my shoes/bra/purse.
I shop online because they have my size.
I shop online so I can take the time to sit in something, see it from behind, make sure it works with my body and movement.
I shop online so I have time.
I shop online so I don’t become a sweaty frustrated mess who wants to drink all the wine at California Pizza Kitchen and enjoy all that wine with spinach artichoke dip.
I shop online so I get what I want in a manner I deserve.

I don’t shop in person, and that includes thrift stores, because I just don’t have the time. I work over 40 hours a week and commute almost 10 hours more. I blog, I help my husband with his business, I have a child and family and friends. When I have free time I don’t want to spend it shopping, I want to spend it living. I spent too much of my past using shopping as a source of entertainment and all it gave me was a lot of debt and crowded closets. When I do go to stores I so often see bored kids in carts, whining to leave. I have limited time with Emerson, I’d rather spend it doing something we both can enjoy.

Where I mainly shop:

  • Nordstrom. They have petites and larger sizes and great reviews from fellow customers to help me choose the right size or to not buy an item. They have free shipping and free returns. Nordstrom also has surprisingly awesome prices – their sales are fabulous, and brands like Halogen and Caslon give you current trends for reasonable prices.
  • Ann Taylor. The brand fits me. Sometimes I love their stuff, sometimes I hate their stuff, but I find the quality and sizing to be relatively consistent and their style to fit my lifestyle. Oh, and they too have great sales and take returns in-store.
  • Talbots. Consistent sizing and quality, great wardrobe staples, great customer service. I swear by Talbots skirts, very flattering and classic.
  • Zappos. Extensive selection, free shipping and returns.
  • 6pm. If you know what you like, check here and you may find it cheaper. Free shipping.
  • Amazon. Same with 6pm, it’s a good place to find very specific items at a great price.
  • Gap. I like them for basics – tee shirts, summer dresses, the occasional pair of jeans. Their sizing and quality is inconsistent so I don’t shop there as much as I used to. But they have a broad range of sizes, and I can do returns in store.
  • eBay. I buy a large percentage of my wardrobe from eBay because it’s saving stuff from landfills, saving me money, and giving me variety. I like to look for last-season’s items on there (I’m the crazy person who remembers the names of different dresses and jackets).

How I shop:

  • I always go to Ebates first. I have written about Ebates before, but it’s a no-strings, no-spam way to get true cash back (not points, not gift cards) on where you shop. Big fan.
  • I always make a list and try to stick to it. Very little virtual window shopping, which can be bad for the wallet.
  • I often sort items from lowest to highest price so I see the more budget-friendly options before falling for one that is more expensive.
  • If the site doesn’t have reviews, I Google the name of the item and “review” to see if I can find them elsewhere. Many blogs do product reviews these days which are super helpful when determining brand or size.
  • I don’t usually veer from brands I know unless there’s a lot of reviews letting me know about quality and fit.
  • I don’t like shopping places where the clothes aren’t on human beings. While some models are smaller than mannequins and clothes are often clipped and pinned to fit, a human model gives me a better feel of drape and fit than a mannequin or having it on a white background.
  • If an online retailers has a PITA return policy, I won’t shop there unless I know before I buy that I will not want to return (specific size and style of shoe, an accessory, etc.).
  • If I want a very specific item and the site doesn’t have my size, I will Google to see if I can find it elsewhere.
  • If I want a specific item (say a Western shirt) I will search my favorite haunts, then I will Google the item with “2013” to see what blog reviews or sites have something with that description. This saves me time and often brings to light new and interesting retailers.
  • I never check out before searching for a promo code. RetailMeNot is my favorite place. I also subscribe to emails from my favorite retailers to get promo codes.
  • I don’t rack up debt, but I do have Nordstrom and Banana Republic (which also works for Gap, Old Navy, and Athleta) credit cards and put my purchases on them. I pay them off right away, but I acquire points on purchases which earn me store credit.
  • I have a box at home where I keep all receipts and packing slips. As soon as I buy something, the receipt goes there in case I need to do a return or exchange. Also helpful if I want to replace something via eBay, I know the name and SKU.
  • I also have a box of shipping materials. In there goes all the shipping bags that deliver product, as well as any tissue paper or bubble wrap used to protect accessories. This way I have free materials for returns as well as old items I sell on eBay.

I have become a bit of an online shopping pro. I know how to find what I want with minimal time, and how to get the best price (or cash back). I know my body, I know what brands usually flatter, so it reduces my number of returns. Online shopping is like any other activity, you become more skilled with time. I have found this to be a good skill to hone because it saves me time, saves me money, and saves my confidence.

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How to Shop: eBay

For a long time, I was terrified of eBay. I didn’t understand it, and felt that I could easily be scammed by sellers who were passing off fakes as authentic, taking my money and not sending me items, pretty much getting screwed by the whole process.

A few years ago, I fell madly in love with the Sandhurst hobo bag from Banana Republic. I went into the store often to drool over it. I would stand in front of a mirror, hold it in my hand, sling over my shoulder, and admire my reflection. However, I just couldn’t afford the price. A friend suggested I look for it on eBay. I did, found a seller who had the exact style and color I desired and was able to get the bag brand new in its dust cover for 30% off the retail price.

After that I was hooked on eBay for brand-name accessories. If I loved a certain necklace from J. Crew or bag from Rebecca Minkoff, I would get the style number and name, the color, the measurements, and then head to eBay. Often times I could find it, and for far cheaper than retail.

I don’t claim to be an eBay expert, but many of you have asked about how I go about shopping on the site. Here’s some of my tips and tricks for navigating eBay:

Accessories on eBay


Shopping for Accessories on eBay

When You Know Exactly What You Want
So you want the Essex bag from Kate Spade? Before you buy retail, head to eBay. There are lots of reasons why people are selling items on eBay. Maybe they got it as a gift or won it in a contest, possibly they are thinning out their collection, maybe it’s a store sample, and yes maybe it’s hot or a fake.

The search function on eBay is pretty robust. I usually start by typing in the brand and style name into the search function (you can often find this info on Google if you don’t already know it). If that doesn’t give me the results I desire, I will make the search broader and just enter the brand name, and then the type of item (handbag, jewelry, sunglasses, etc.). Often times sellers do not know the style name or number, so by adding that to your search you may end up with zero results.

I then search through the selections and in a separate browser tab/window, open any that fit my criteria. I then look at each different auction. Are they really the same item and color? What is the condition of each? Who has the better options and price for shipping? What are their return policies?

I look at the seller – I care less about how many thousands of sales they have had, and more on the quality of their feedback. I go and read the feedback; I am especially interested in negative and neutral feedback. Recently I purchased a blouse from a seller who claimed the item was New Without Tags, never worn, pristine condition. When I received it, it was missing a button. I left neutral feedback, as that the blouse was as described except for the fact that a very important button (cannot be replaced) was missing and this was not in the description. The seller contacted me, angry about the neutral feedback and asked for me to return the blouse and remove my feedback. I again looked at her feedback and saw that in the past six months she had two other neutral feedbacks from folks stating their items were not quite as described. I chose to leave that feedback to warn future customers; I wonder how many either didn’t notice their purchase’s flaw or accepted the seller’s offer to return the item and remove the feedback.

Once I find the item and seller that I like, I stop and think, what is the maximum amount I would pay for this item? I then write it down so it is more concrete. I bid, and I NEVER go over that number. eBay will let you know when you are close to being outbid and when you have been outbid, and it’s so tempting to add a couple more dollars just to stay in the game. DON’T. I have a friend who admitted she spent $50 more on an item on eBay than it cost in the store just because she got caught up in the thrill of the auction. I feel that if you are bidding within 30% of the actual retail price for something on eBay it’s usually not worth it. Wait until you get a store coupon so you have the customer service to go with the item in case there is an issue/need for repairs or a return.

Nine times out of ten what you are bidding for on eBay you don’t need in the first place, so if it’s not in your price range, let it go. Seriously, let it go.

Once you get your item, carefully open the shipping package and inspect it from head to toe. Does it match the photos and description of the item? Were you extravagantly overcharged for the shipping? If you are happy, leave quick and detailed feedback about the shipping, the price, the quality, the communication of the seller. If you find an issue, let the seller know; she may offer a quick solution. If you’re wildly unhappy, don’t keep it to yourself – let the seller know and let the world know with your feedback. Feedback isn’t just for the seller, it’s for future customers, future yous who want to buy and know they are getting their money’s worth.

When You Don’t Know What You Want
You can search more general terms like “Stella and Dot ring” or “Ann Taylor” and then use the eBay-offered categories to break down to jewelry or shoes or bags. From there you can usually break it down even further by color, size, and specific type of item. I usually don’t, and let my mouse do the walking through dozens of pages of auctions while I eat my lunch or wait for a friend to arrive. If you don’t know what you want, it’s good to really take a tour because you may be pleasantly surprised with what you find. A search for peacock-feather earrings ended up finding me a great dress for Bonnaroo; a search for a charm bracelet got me my Anthropologie crystal bracelet.

As with others, investigate your seller, and write down a final price. Be sure to check shipping prices – sometimes they are so high (or coming from overseas) that it’s not worth it to wait for it to arrive, or you might as well buy it retail.

Clothing on eBay


Shopping for Clothing on eBay

I hardly ever go outside my brand comfort zone on eBay. I shop brands whose fit I know is consistent. It is either something I have already tried on in a store, or a designer with whom I am very familiar (hello Ann Taylor). Keep in mind, even your go-to brand (hello Ann Taylor!) changes its sizing over the years – you may be an 8 at that brand, but if the item is five years old you may find an 8 to be a bit snug.

The only time I will go outside my complete comfort zone is with vintage clothing, and then I have to have very detailed clothing measurements in the description. If you have questions, ask them! Ask the seller for a photo of the back view of the dress, ask if the skirt is lined or what type of slit it has in the back. Ask if it’s more of a midnight navy or a dark blue, and ask for the fabric content. If you are unsure of the year, ask to see a photo of the label (most retailers slightly change the logo or look of their label every couple of years – you can often Google to find a timeline of the brand’s logo). It sucks to receive an item that isn’t want you believed it to be and go back and realize the seller didn’t misrepresent, you just filled in the blanks without asking.

I prefer a seller who has multiple pictures of an item, and of the actual item, not a JPEG lifted off of Google Images. This way I really know I am getting what I desire.

eBay Shopping Support

PayPal: If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you will need one to shop on eBay. I prefer PayPal to credit cards for online shopping because I have less chance for identity theft. PayPal is very user secure and friendly, and you can easily set it up to your checking account (or multiple bank accounts) so when you have a $0 PayPal balance, it will just withdraw right from your bank.

PayPal can be used at so many other sites online (hello Etsy, drugstore.com,Lands End Canvas and Zappos and more!) that it makes sense to have an account with them.


eSnipe: I haven’t used eSnipe in a while, but loved it back when I was looking for my Sandhurst bag. My hairdresser told me about it, and it has helped me score some great prices on eBay auctions. Instead of having to constantly stalk your auction to ensure you have the highest price, eSnipe will do it for you. Tell them your maximum price that you are willing to pay and in the last couple of seconds of an auction eSnipe will bid on your behalf, helping you win the auction, and not go above your budget.  FYI, eSnipe is now only free for a trial period, and then has a slight cost.

Ebates: I have a love affair with Ebates.  Sign up for free, visit Ebates before heading to most online shops and get cash back on your purchase.  They have popular online retailers like Sephora, Nordstrom, Target, Ann Taylor and Old Navy, but Ebates also gives you 1-4% cash back on all purchases on eBay! 

Ebates gives you an actual check once a quarter, no points to redeem, no gift cards, actual cash.  No spam, no strings, just 30 seconds for money back.  Be sure to sign up and visit Ebates each time before you head to eBay!

Some eBay Acronyms to Know:

  • NWT – New with Tags. This means the tags should be ATTACHED unless otherwise stated in the description
  • NWOT – New without tags. This means new condition, an item could be found at a store like this. No perfume, no dog hair, no creases from wear.
  • NWOB – New without box. (everytime I see this acronym I think NKOTB)
  • NRFB – Never removed from the box
  • EUC – Excellent used condition. Means like-new, though not as perfect as NWOT.
  • MNT – Mint condition (again doesn’t mean new, but is closer to NWOT)
  • VGC - Very good condition.  This means the item was worn, but is still in wearable condition (no stains, holes, etc.)
  • GUC or GU – Good used condition. This description has many shades of gray and it’s important to know details, see detailed photos and ask questions to fill in the blanks.
  • NBW – Never been worn
  • TTS – True to size
  • S/S or SS – Short-sleeved
  • L/S or LS – Long-sleeved
  • FB – Feeback
  • DBL – Double
  • FP – Fixed price
  • GBP - Great British Pounds
  • ITF – Impossible to find (often used in title for limited-edition pieces)
  • VHTF – Very hard to find (ditto, often in auction titles)

eBay Etiquette
Leave feedback. No matter what you purchased, or how many times you shopped from the same seller, leave feedback for every individual purchase you make. Many people make their living off of eBay auctions, and your feedback supports their livelihood. Feedback also helps your fellow shoppers, letting them know who to trust, and who to avoid.

Pay promptly. If you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be bidding in the first place. When I win an auction, I pay within 24 hours. I have sold on eBay and it’s frustrating to have to chase down a customer to beg for your money. Not paying promptly is like being rude to your waiter – he will care less about pleasing you and you may get spit in your soup… or a delayed shipment.

Pay. Again, if you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t be bidding. Winning an auction and then never paying won’t just give you negative feedback, but will also screw over the seller. There is a lot of steps a seller has to take to prove that you didn’t keep up your end of the bargain, to get back their selling fee, and finally be able to re-list the item. A good month could go by and that’s possibly the rent or grocery bill for that seller.

If something unexpected happens where you just can’t pay… contact the seller. Let them know as soon as possible. Don’t hide and ignore the invoices you will receive. Bad things happen to good people, we have all been there. Don’t leave your seller high and dry.

Accept the seller’s terms. As a previous eBay seller, nothing is more frustrating than having a person from Belgium try to bid on an item when I clearly stated I only ship to the US. I have had sellers try to pay via money order when I write that I only accept PayPal, ask me to ship FedEx when I use USPS, request I take the item off auction and just sell it at a reduced price to them. Read the description, all the fine print. It doesn’t hurt to ask if it’s a small change (offer to pay additional for expedited shipping or delivery to Canada from the US), but remember these are people, not major corporations. They don’t have the time, resources, money or desire to be your personal valet.

Have you had success shopping on eBay?  What are your tips and tricks for navigating the site and getting great fashion deals?

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