Thursday, July 28, 2011

Retail Review: & Dr. Martens Marcie Wedge Boots

One of my favorite things? Credit card rewards! I know the hardcore-prudent thing to do would be to take cash back -- but seriously, I have an addiction sickness hobby to fund. :)

I noticed that a round of credit card rewards were set to expire soon, so I decided to use them to acquire these Dr. Martens Marcie boots. A twist on an old favorite, the Marcie combines a classic combat boot upper with a platform wedge heel that makes my stubby legs and flat-sole-averse arches sit up and take notice. Yes, please!

The Shoebuy Experience
  • Order Placement Process: Excellent. They offer a bajillion payment options, and there were no freakish hoops or fetish props to jump through to place my order.
  • Product Details: Average. The heel height listed ended up being a half inch shorter than the actual height... I suppose they might have arrived at their measurement by subtracting the platform, but it would have been nice to know that (if it were indeed the case); Some of us like to know whether we will end up taller than our boyfriends or sporting highwater jeans if we wear those shoes. Also, no calf/ankle circumference information was included.
  • Pricing: Excellent. Whatever sale shoebuy was having at the time priced my boots at a full $30 cheaper than I saw them anywhere else. And they don't charge sales tax. And they offer a 100% price guarantee. I believe the term I'm looking for is booya.
  • Shipping/Packaging: Excellent. Free, fast, accurately-tracked shipping in a discreet box covered in tape that reminds you to check for defects and damage before accepting the product.
  • Return/Exchange Process: Excellent. Free returns, free return shipping, easy return tracking, and a convenient pre-paid label included in my box. They use an online form for return explanations instead of making you interpret weird "exchange codes" on the back of your packing slip. I took the site's advice for a speedy exchange and simply returned the larger size while placing an new order for the smaller, which did result in a speedily-recieved replacement - the only downside is that the boots were not the exact same price as before. I thought about calling customer service to inquire about a match, but it was small enough a difference that the CC rewards still totally covered the price (difference was about $5).
  • Overall: TOTALLY EXCELLENT. I'm very impressed with the price, speed, and service. Very much like I remember ordering from Zappos, but I remember Zappos as always having higher prices - and Zappos didn't carry these particular boots. Shoebuy has officially replaced Amazon as my #1 shoe site due to their price matching and free shipping. :)
The Marcie Wedge Boot Experience
  • Fit: based on what the Dr. Martens size chart says, these felt a 1/2 size too big... and they only come in whole sizes, so if you're on the border of two sizes like me, go for the smaller option. I initally ordered the 9 instead of my usual 8.5 and ended up swimming in them.
  • Quality: Just what you'd expect from Dr. Martens: sturdy & well-made, so you feel like you can really kick some butt in these boots. :)
  • Comfort: WOW. Possibly the most comfortable boots I've had. I've walked for miles in these and had none of the dreaded arch pain or muscle cramps that have plagued me in my GI combat boots. Lovelovelovelovelove!

    All in all, this has been one of the best online shopping experiences I've ever had. No hemming and hawing over whether or not to try another size. No agonizing over the price until my desired item has sold out. Nothing but pure shoe bliss. :)

    Plus, the cat seems to like 'em. >^..^<

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    How to Shop: Ebay

    Ebay is definitely one of my go-to sites for procuring specific wardrobe wants/needs. I can almost always find what I'm looking for at a decent price, making it a nice, happy compromise between the chaos of the swap meet and the priciness of the mall. Still, many of my friends still say they find Ebay a bit dizzying. Here's how I navigate the site - maybe some of you will find it helpful. :)

    How to Bid
    1. Search for what you want. Add keywords depending on how specific your desires are - for example, if you've already tried a specific brand and style of jeans on in-store, and you know you need the size 27, you can go ahead and enter "Hudson signature jeans 27." However, if you're open to a variety of brands and just want to find the best deal for you, simply enter "jeans."
    2. Filter your search results. Ebay is fabulous at allowing you to sort your results by a wide range of criteria. Select the sizes, prices, materials, conditions, colors, inseams, et cetera by clicking on the check boxes in the left hand menu. To select multiple options, click "choose more."
    3. Identify the likely suspects. If you come across an item you think will work for you, click "Add to Watch List," and move on. Repeat until your search results have been exhausted.
    4. Contact sellers with any questions. Let's say you love a pair of shoes, but you've ordered enough shoes off the internet to know that few people can measure a shoe heel to save their lives. You can contact the seller and ask them to please measure the heel exactly the way you want. You can also request additional photos or ask them to describe the color in more detail, since computer monitors can sometimes lie to us. Don't worry about being a pain - most sellers are more than happy to help you get an item you love the first time around, given how painful it can be to deal with returns/refunds/negative feedback. After that, you can remove from your watch list any item that turns out to be the wrong size, color, whatever.
    5. Lie in wait, then pounce! A practice sometimes known as "sniping," I'm a fan of waiting for the last minute to bid. This ensures that no one comes along at the last minute to outbid you by a measly dollar. Be sure to enter the absolute highest price you're willing to pay, though, because there might be a gal with deeper pockets sniping the auction along with you, and you won't get a chance to reconsider your bid after the fact.
    Examples of Information Requests

    "Hi there! I know Arden B. runs a little small - could you please let me know the measurements across the shoulders and across the bust from armpit to armpit?"
    "Hello, would you please let me know the measurements for: shaft height from footbed to top, from the center back; shaft circumference at widest point; heel height measured from center back; ankle circumference? Thanks in advance!"
    How to Resolve a Problem
    1. Stay calm. First and foremost, step away from the feedback button! Most issues can be resolved in an easy and friendly way, but negative feedback will damage a seller's rating for an entire year! As a seller, there is nothing worse than getting negative feedback from a buyer who never even bothered to ask for a refund. Honest, negative feedback for a seller who won't work with you is find... but the feedback isn't going to get you your refund.
    2. Message the seller. Once you're calm, contact the seller with your issue - be nice, and describe your problem in detail. Understand that buyers try to steal items all the time by claiming that an item was not delivered (even though it was) or demanding an undeserved refund under the threat of negative feedback (tantamount to extortion, IMO).
    3. Appeal to Ebay/Paypal. If the seller will not cooperate with you, don't get into an email brawl. Simply click over to the Ebay resolution center and open a dispute. This way, Ebay/Paypal will investigate the case and determine whether or not you should receive a refund (Ebay sides with the buyer most of the time).
    Example of a Refund Request
    "Hi there, I received this semi-mount a week ago and had my stone set this weekend... and one of the semi-mount diamonds already fell out. :( Do you think you could refund the cost of replacing it - I'd send back the whole item, but I already paid to have my stone set."

    See? Not scary at all! Ebay is an amazing resource for everything from clothes to shoes to Pez dispensers -- unless you're planning to bid on those shoes I'm watching. In that case, back off! ;)

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    What's Your Damage, Heather?: Shopping Irregular & Imperfect Items

    I like buying damaged goods. Half my Ebay searches specifically look for items that need a little TLC. So where does one draw the line between a torn-up piece of junk and a really good deal?

    1. Is the damage visible? The lining of my Tahari jacket sports some pretty impressive discoloring from deodorant - but since no one sees it, it's like the damage doesn't exist.
    2. Is the damage repairable? My now-blue bowler bag was purchased as a filthy and stained lavender color, but a fresh coat of dye brought it back from the dead to look good as new.
    3. Is the damage lovable? My recently-purchased pair of Hudson Signature jeans sports three rips - two of which sit on the inner thighs. But I love grunge, deconstruction, and post-apocalyptic fashion; I love these rips, too.
    4. Is the damage represented in the price? Ah, yes: the bottom line. We can't forget about that! Even if the damage seems cool or insignificant to you, you should still get a significant discount for the item. When Goodwill asked for just $5 for my cognac boots, I still talked them down to $4, because I felt that was a more appropriate price for boots with cracked leather soles.
    It seems I like my clothes like I like my friends: smart, thrifty, and just a little bit off. :)

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Retail Review: Specialchoice Handbags

    Logo From Ebay Store
    Specialchoice isn't your average online retailer - it's actually an Ebay store specializing in trendy, distinctive handbags from South Korea (home of the best romantic comedies this side of Ursa Major, btw). They currently offer almost 300 different items, and most of them come in a wide color variety as well. Prices average at about $120 shipped.

    So wait. Stop the presses. Hold the phone. How did the One-Dollar Wonders gal end up looking at $120 handbags? Before you stone me as a charlatan, I'd like you to know that I have credit card rewards points to spend, thankyouverymuch (and yes, I pay my bill off completely every month).

    Now that that's out of the way, back to bags! As I neared the rewards tier that would net me a $250 gift card to Macy's. Since I knew I wanted a cognac leather messenger bag for fall, I started kept my hairy eyeball on the Macy's handbag offerings -- all through spring. And do you know what I discovered? I must be a spoiled brat of a handbag snob, because I was wholly unimpressed with the ho-hum bags I could get there - especially at the prices I'd have to pay! For the size of bag I wanted, I'd have had to pay $50-$100 on top of my gift card -- seriously? $250 won't even get a body a handbag nowadays? Wow. I'm a snob and I'm out of touch.

    Screencap from Ebay Store
    Disillusioned with department store bags, I turned to Ebay, my discount shopping rock. I sifted through thousands of used and damaged cognac bags over a matter of months, and I still never felt those thunderous stomach butterflies of handbag love. So I opened up my search to new merchandise. I narrowed the results to leather items only. I sorted by lowest price...

    ... and Specialchoice handbags were officially on my radar!

    After my lackluster experience ordering from China, I was wary of ordering from Korea. But Specialchoice's Ebay reviews far surpass what I would call "positive" and rocket on into "rave" territory. Shopping is fantastically easy, as all color options are shown in the item's main gallery photo. Their numerous large, clear photos depict the bags hanging and unstuffed, to better communicate the drape and texture of the leather. Almost every bag offers the added functionality of a removable crossbody strap. And almost all of them induce a hearty, internal squee. And if I converted my CC rewards to cash (i.e. gift cards to the gas station), I could get one of their bags and have money left over. Needless to say, I went for it.
    Promo Pic from Ebay Store
    I chose their Jesse Satchel in cognac (now sold out), as it is just the color I wanted, offers two removable straps, and can also be reconfigured as a tote or hobo.

    My order was shipped the day after it was placed, trackable trough Korea Post/EMS. It arrived a full week ahead of the estimated delivery time in a 12"X17" cardboard box. The box was a wee bit squished, but mostly well-preserved, considering its recent travels. The bag itself was wrapped in plastic (a good touch in case of inclement weather) and a white dust bag. I pulled the wrapping off and...

    I love it. Oh, yeah.

    The bag itself looks exactly as pictured. The pebbled leather is thick and smooshy - you can tell the leather is new, and maybe a bit stiff if you are used to Lucky Brand or the washed leathers that some brands use now, but I think it will soften up even more over time. I would compare the softness of the leather to the Italian brands Cristina or Valentina (both sold at TJMaxx) or a Dooney & Bourke. The zippers are all metal and work smoothly, and all the clasps and other hardware items are also real metal of a nice weight. There is one spot of sewing that is not 100% perfect, but it is nothing I feel compelled to complain to the seller about. The rest of the seams are sturdy and neat. Measurements and color are both true to the item description on Ebay.

    All in all, the bag was very well represented in the Ebay description -- and that's key. I had already decided I loved the bag based on the pictures and write up, so I would have been crushed if it looked cheap or didn't measure up. Luckily, this time, I was able to breath a sigh of relief after getting just what I expected.
    Order Placed: 7/10/11
    Order Shipped: 7/11/11
    Tracking: didn't feed to Ebay, but worked via EMS site (probably Ebay's issue)
    Estimated Delivery: 7/27/11 - 8/9/11
    Actual Delivery: 7/20/11


     Shown here with the coat I had in mind when I started looking for a cognac bag... until it got to hot for a coat in my living room. :)

    This post is NOT sponsored. The bag was purchased with my own funds via Paypal, and all the gushing is 100% my own.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Retail Review: is a Chinese-based online purveyor of Asian-made clothing, shoes, and accessories. Their site boasts a plethora of of-the-moment pieces at amazingly low prices. They also offer deals for wholesale and drop-shipping orders, but this review recalls the retail experience only.
    I've now ordered from several times, with varying degrees of success. The crux of the issue seems to be that the customer can have a tough time determining which items are in stock -- a difficulty that can lead to severe disappointment.
    For example, the first time I ordered from the site, I was absolutely rabid to have this red sweater -- the cat appliques are so sweet they made my teeth hurt. So I swallowed my reservations about ordering from China, added it to my cart, paid, and waited... only to be emailed days later with the news that my beloved sweater was out of stock. I stalked this sweater for a good year, hoping against hope that it would be restocked -- and one day, my prayers were answered. The sweater was back up, and the "add to cart" button was restored. Only the same thing happened: even though I was able to order the item, it was not in stock. I vowed never to order from the site again.

    ...but the truth is that the allure of cat-themed items always proves too strong for me. This was before the time of the iconic Miu Miu cat print; cats were nowhere to be found in America and entirely overpriced on And I fell in love with this quirky sweater dress. This time, the order went through without a hitch, and my sweater arrived! I liked it, but I didn't love it. It was shorter than expected based on the photo and measurements, and the knit was scratchy and of low quality. I figured it wasn't worth it to order from again.

    Lo and behold, however, registering for the site signed me up for their email list, and I was eventually drawn in again. This time, my pulse raced for this convertible bag with cheeky, checkerboard pattern in genuine leather. Disclaimers all over the site warned that, because of Chinese New Year, shipping would be delayed. I figured that that was fine with me; I just wanted to place my order good and early so that they wouldn't run out again. So this time I asked customer service if my item was in stock. I was assured it was available. I added it to my cart and checked out. But when I tried to pay, I was unable to! I waited about a month until the holiday was over and tried to pay again - nothing! Finally, I wrote to customer service and was informed that I would have to cancel the first order and create a new one... and you guessed it: after ordering and paying, I was informed that my bag was out of stock. I vowed never to order from the site again - again!

    Most recently, I checked back into the site after I saw that Forever21 had done a Miu Miu-inspired dress. I figured that, if they had done it, then the Chinese had likely done it, too - I was right! I found the perfect blouse for about $7. I inquired about availability and was told it was in stock. I ordered, paid via Paypal, and waited. Two days after placing the order, I received an email shipping confirmation and tracking number. Five days after placing the order, my package arrived in California, and my blouse was everything I'd hoped it would be - minus some loose threads and the fact that all the buttons seemed to be sewn on with a single, uncut, unknotted thread. o_0

    -Insane selection
    -Low, low prices
    -Cute, quirky, unique items you aren't likely to find in a brick & mortar store
    -Shipping can apparently be lightening-fast!

    -Browsing/Searching is difficult, as you cannot sort your search results by category (clicking on the category erases your search criteria), and your search will also pull up all other words that contain your search word (e.g. a search for "cat" also pulled up listings for "delicate.")
    -No system that removes the purchase option once an item is sold out.
    -Quality is a toss-up
    -Shipping costs can negate what you thought would be an insane deal

    The bottom line: is pretty much like shopping the Chinese equivalent of a Forever21 warehouse - you can score adorable, unique, never-see-it-again-anywhere-else items for a song... but the process might totally kill your shopping buzz. I say go ahead and risk it if you find something you truly can't find anywhere else, but don't count your kittens until they've shipped.

    All images except the last two are from the wholesale-dress website.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Fake It 'Till You Make It: Building a Cheap Business Suit from Mismatched Separates

    Contrary to the results in my previous post, thrifting a business suit is h-a-r-d hard! Especially if you are a woman. And especially if you are outside the average size range in your thrifting area. Why? Because thrifting a suit requires you to fit the exact, probably-tailor-fit measurements of someone else's top and bottom. It's a rare feat even on Ebay, where I've spotted more frustratingly lopsided suits than I care to remember -- seriously, who are all these people wearing size zero pants with size 8 blazers??

    But I digress.

    My solution to the elusive suit conundrum: shameless fakery. The alternative: paying full price for a suit. Nuts. To. That.

    First up is a great Tahari ASL sheath dress bought at Goodwill (vacation shopping in NYC!) for $12. I paired it with a $1 Silence & Noise Jacket from the swap meet because the fabrics are of similar weight and color. The effect: A $13 Tahari ASL suit.

    This Tahari wool jacket didn't come with this no-name pleated-hem skirt, but you'd never know it because 1) the colors look identical under fluorescent lights, 2) the fabrics weigh and move very similarly, and 3) the skirt is 90% covered by the jacket, anyway. The effect? A $2 Tahari suit. :)

    I hesitated to wear this Forever 21 jacket with this skirt, because I thought I'd either look too matchy-matchy or like a straight-up poser. However, when I took the plunge, I kept getting compliments on my pretty "suit." Hey, if it works for you guys, then it works for me! The effect: A so-high-quality-you'd-never-even-see-it-at-the-mall suit. Or at least that's what I tell myself... shhh, the delusions keep me placid...

    This Merona dress was passed on to me by a coworker and, since I've been trying to look more authoritative in my new position, I immediately know I wanted to try it with my brown blazer. The colors match, but the jacket is lightweight wool, while the dress is thin polyester. I think it still works, because the bottom layer is a dress instead of just a skirt. A thin, flowy skirt topped with a structured, wool jacket would have looked lopsided. However, since the line of the polyester fabric continues from the top of the outfit to the bottom, it looks more balanced and (most importantly) intentional. This one drew a compliment from my supervisor, so I consider it a success! Since the dress was free, I call this a $1 suit!

    This blazer was another hand-me-down, so this is another $1 suit! I felt comfortable pairing this BCBG jacket with these Ann Taylor pants because the color, weight, and weave of the fabrics are all visually similar.

    In summary, to effectively fake a suit, try to match:

    • Color - this is most important. No one will buy that your off-black jacket came with a saturated, blue-black skirt.

    • Weight - wintry wool + summery linen does not equal a convincing suit.

    • Drape - pair like with like (slinky with slinky or crisp with crisp)

    • Weave/Texture - it may seem like a small detail (literally and figuratively), but everyone will be able to tell that a pair of cotton twill trousers don't match a ponte knit blazer.

    • Style - a bit more ephemeral but, for example, you probably shouldn't pair a sweet jacket with a dramatically edgy skirt.

    Conversely, if enough other elements match, you may be able to cheat on:

    • Fabric content - two plain weaves in the exact same color can look very much alike, even if one is slightly heavier/more stretchy/ etc.

    • Decorative details - if one piece sports a trim or a small pattern but otherwise matches the color, weight, and style of the other piece, I still think you've got yourself a suit.

    Do you ever fake a suit? How's that workin' for ya'? Do you feel like you're thinking outside the box, or do you just feel like a fraud?

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    $50 Mens Business Wardrobe Capsule

    I love nothing more than when I get the opportunity to use my thrift powers for good instead of greed (seriously, I love to shop, but sometimes I think I'm going to need to fold space to accommodate all my purchases). Luckily, my good friend Ivan gave me just such an opportunity when he allowed me to start up his very first business wardrobe capsule. A recent graduate, he's in the process of going out to face-to-face informational meetings as well as interviews, so he needs to look sharp and be prepared to work in a business casual office right away if he receives an offer. As a recent graduate, however, he also needs to go easy on the old pocketbook -- a perfect job for yours truly!

    Fist thing, we hit up Ivan's local swap meet and ferreted out some great basics: button-front shirts and dress slacks (he already owns some nice ties).

    Yellow Ralph Lauren shirt - $1 - compare at $85
    Jos A. Bank wool slacks - $1 - compare at $195
    Van Heusen Navy Sweater Vest - $1- compare at $20
    Linden Grey White shirt - $1- compare at - $14.50
    John W. Nordstrom White shirt - $1- compare at $90
    Calvin Klein Gray slacks - $1- compare at $80
    Blue Nsignia shirt - $1 - original price unknown

    Next, we headed down the street to Goodwill, where we scored majorly with a perfect navy pinstripe suit, black dress shoes, a beautiful camel jacket, and a snazzy pair of suspenders to add polish and personality.

    British Walker shoes - $8 - compare at $50
    Gel insoles - (came inside the shoes!) - compare at $9
    Clip-on Patterned Suspenders - $1.50 - compare at $20
    Hart Schaffner Marx Navy Pinstripe suit - $20 - compare at $695!!!
    Camel hair blazer (no tags) $10 - compare at $299

    Check out those results in our totally silly Modern Man's Morning photo shoot! I think he looks totally professional, competent, and experienced -- all for under $50 versus more than $1,500. Now that's good business. :)

    Howdy, neighbor! Oh, this mug? A busy guy like me clearly has no time to drink his coffee at home - multitasking is king!

    As a successful California man, I sometimes like to study for my financial certifications poolside.

    Don't you??

    TGIF - and TGI have this slick camel hair blazer to take me straight to a social event of my choice after work!

    Tips for shopping used business wear:
    • Don't trust the labeled sizes! Dress clothes are the most likely to have been tailored to fit someone else, so you absolutely cannot rely on the tags. Try on everything you can, and measure everything you can't.
    • Men, pay special attention to neck size and inseams.
    • Women, watch those hemlines.
    • Buy the best jackets/suits you can reasonably afford. A great jacket will uplift a so-so shirt, and can even mask issues like sleeve length.
    • Don't forget the details. They show your employer that you... well, pay attention to details! Well-crafted shoes and personal touches like ties, suspenders, patterned shirts, flattering colors, or quirky cuff links show that you aren't just a drone.
    How do you save when shopping for work? Any tips?

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    DIY Review: Tulip Fabric Dye

    The stars aligned just right: a dress I like is woefully beset with armpit discoloration, and my stove and my bathtub needed cleaning at the same time. Fabric dye time!

    The dress in question is a pistachio colored silk dress I bought for a buck. It's never been my favorite color to begin with, but it is breezy and comfy when the temperature starts to skyrocket out here in LA.

    I've always used RIT dye in the past, but today I'm trying out Tulip dye, because Tulip offered the color I wanted, no color-mixing required. This means less work and less money, because I would have had to buy multiple boxes of color to achieve the same color with RIT.

    Here's a "before" picture of the dress, from back when I spilled BBQ sauce on it while on vacation. :D

    The instructions on the back read:
    1. Fill bowl or stainless steel sink with one gallon of STEAMING HOT water.
    2. Stir in 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) salt.
    3. Pour in dye packet and stir until dissolved.
    4. Submerge fabric in dye mixture.
    5. Stir continually for 15 minutes, and then occasionally for 45 minutes.
    6. Rinse fabric in cold water. Wash in warm water and dry away from direct heat and sunlight.
    What I did:
    1. I wet the dress before inserting it into the dye bath. Previous experience had shown that skipping this step could lead to streaky results.
    2. I turned my faucet on as hot as it would go, but I didn't see any steam after I filled the pot I would use to hold the dye. Since I've dyed on a stovetop before, I felt comfortable heating the water further with my burner and keeping the heat on for the 15 minute continual-stirring period. My dress also wouldn't stay fully submerged (lots of air pockets), so I tried to stir it very well and make sure that the above-dye-level portions were rotated often.
    3. After 15 minutes of continual stirring, I turned off the stove burner and set my kitchen timer for 10 minute intervals. This seemed to be enough to qualify as "occasional" stirring.
    4. When it was time to rinse the dye out, I transferred the dress only to a bowl in which to carry them across my carpet and into the bathroom. I had first thought to bring the entire pot to the bathroom, but then had a horrible vision of sloshing dye all over the floor. Bowl it is!
    5. Finally, I rinsed my dress in cold water and hung it up to air dry instead of putting it through the wash -- the washing machines in my complex cost $1.50 per load; nuts to wasting that much money on two pieces! I just tried to make sure that as much dye as possible got rinsed out of the fabric.
    The results were fantastic! Since I was dying over another color, I wasn't exactly sure of what shade I would get, but the silk turned out this lovely jade green/Tiffany blue color. The fiance thinks it's now his favorite of all my dresses.

    I would definitely use the Tulip dye again... in fact, I even got greedy and tried to dye another dress immediately after. The results were pretty splotchy - I do believe the moral of that story is to believe the back of the package when it says it will dye about the same amount of fabric as a men's shirt. Yay for accurate information, but boo for my splotchy dress. Oh well, that just means I'll have to dye it again real soon. :)