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Making the Most of Online Sales

24 Jul

Ever have the feeling you have 17,000 email messages in your inbox? I actually did – I signed up to receive “marketing communications” from all my favorite online stores, and then fell behind on reading all the messages. After more than a year of neglect, I finally sat down to clear out the backlog, and was amazed at the volume of email urging me to buy, buy, buy… message after message saying “hurry” or “last day” (only to announce another sale a few weeks later).

They just keep coming...

They just keep coming… over 20 marketing messages received by 10am.

Truth is,  you don’t need to be on a store’s email list to take advantage of the best sales of the year.  They always happen twice a year: after Christmas, and right now – in late July and August, when Fall and Winter clothes begin to arrive in stores. But email marketing offers you the advantage of early access and sometimes an additional discount.

I recently needed a dress to wear to a summer wedding in Sonoma, and I was hoping to land a deal.  So when Boden (one of my favorite online stores) announced their end-of-summer sale, I jumped on the site the same day. I loaded up my cart with 10 “maybe” items, then quickly narrowed down to the best five. I gulped at the total dollar amount and then ordered all five items, knowing I’d be sending half of it back – because in a real store, you take more stuff into the dressing room than you intend to buy. I even paid $15 for express shipping to find out quickly if I had “the right dress” for the occasion. The next day, a large box was on my doorstep!   (It’s my first time using overnight shipping, and I have to say, I could get used to this.)

As it turns out, of the two dresses I ordered, one was a winner. Even with the extra shipping charges, it ended up costing less than $160 – not bad considering I never even had to leave my house. No raking through cluttered clothing racks. I could try it on at home with my own shoes and accessories. As a footnote, less than a week after ordering it, my size is already sold out – so I’m glad I acted quickly.

boden silk petal dress

A recent score from Boden’s online sale – just the dress to wear to a summer wedding.

The unexpected winner from the order was a funky 60’s print tunic – I had my doubts about the crazy retro print, but when I put it on, it felt so good that I decided to keep it. I live in tunic length tops, and the print offers a welcome pop of color.  The fit is great too – flattering neckline, not too tight around the hips, long enough to wear with leggings (or as a super-mini dress if you are feeling daring). $58 is more than I usually spend on tops, but I know it will get plenty of wear.

Boden Fab Jersey Tunic on Sale

The stretchy cotton jersey material was so soft and comfy that I ended up keeping this one.

In a nutshell, here is how I make the most of online sales:

1) Use a separate email account for online shopping. Then, ignore the account unless you’re looking to buy something.

2) Be stingy with your time. Delete all marketing emails older than a week without reading them.

3) If you do intend to buy, respond to online sales early, because popular items can go out of stock in a few days.

4) Order more items than you intend to keep. (You may need to pay for return shipping, but perhaps ordering more means you get free shipping with your order.) Order two sizes of the same item if you have trouble finding your size in a real store.  Yes, you’ll have to float the cost of the additional items until your return is processed, but you’re more likely to end up with something that you’re excited about.

5) Look for coupon codes before you check out  – it only takes a minute and may save you shipping or 20% off with very little effort. My favorite site is Retailmenot.com

6)  Be picky when trying on your clothes at home. Using the best mirror in the house, force yourself to make quick decisions based on gut-level reaction. When in doubt, send it back.

7) Bang out the logistics. To make returns easy, keep your computer connected to a printer for creating return labels, and keep a roll of packing tape in your desk for sealing your package. Fill out the paperwork for the return as soon as you can (to avoid losing it). Find the most convenient place near home or work to drop off UPS packages (using UPS.com). If your package has prepaid postage, don’t stand in line at the post office – walk up to the front of the line, make eye contact with a clerk, and he/she will tell you where to leave it.

8) Log off and get back to real life.  It’s easy to get sucked into hunting for deals online – so I give myself a time limit. If nothing clicks in the first 1 or 2 minutes on a specific site, I ditch out, knowing there will always be a next time.

Do you have another tip to share? Leave it in the comments section below!

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My Closet, Reimagined

19 Apr

In my last post, I discovered that sometimes the stuff in my closet is not so old and boring after all, when combined in new ways. Here are a few more strategies I have been using to breathe new life into my wardrobe. I am using these pics to illustrate the point, but of course I only wish these were my clothes! They are street style shots photographed by Elle in Paris at Fashion Week and elsewhere. (If you click on the image, skip the Elle.com ad and go to the full slide show of photos for more inspiration.) The point is not to copy the look wholesale, but if you squint your eyes, maybe you can imagine your own version of these trends, using stuff that’s already hanging in your own closet.

Layering

layered-knits

Ordinary items can look very new again if combined artfully. Biker gloves and sequin pants don't have a place in my closet at the moment, but a little patent leather and a little sparkle never hurt an outfit that I know of.

Electric Color: I haven’t sprung for this much electric color at once, but I do have a few electric tank tops from the Gap that I am layering under other tops and showing just an edge of bright color.

Somehow this lady pulls off wearing electric blue pants with ease. If kids love bright colors, shouldn't we? What bright color are you going to try this season?

Another take on electric blue. The grey coat with soft texture really tones it down pleasantly.

White on Neutral: I’m pretty scared to white around my kids, but it makes sense to me if you’re going to wear it, wear it on top, out of reach of dirty hands. A clean white shirt feels so luxurious to me, I might just opt for that on me next date night.

all-white-ensemble photographed by Elle

Here's one way to wear white - multiple white layers, grey pants and a black accessory. (I love to imagine what shoes you could wear with this outfit- anything from Converse high tops to wedge boots would work.)

Color on Color: Our kids aren’t afraid of bright colors, whether painting with them, wearing them, or eating them. An outfit with a great combination of colors has instant appeal. When asking yourself if two colors look good together, I always go with my gut, even if the answer isn’t immediately obvious to others. After all, there’s no reason getting dressed shouldn’t be fun.

Is there such a thing as being too old to wear green nail polish?

Neon: There’s nothing like a pop-of-80’s-neon to liven up a neutral top and pant. I’ve seen neon on everything from T-shirts to shoelaces, but I use it sparingly because don’t like the color to be overpowering.  

A-pop-of-neon photographed by Elle at Fashion Week

One way to tone down a slightly garish pattern is to show just a peep of it. Also, a-pop-of-neon bag livens up a neutral top and pants.

Sweater with Bold Print: I don’t have a chunky sweater with stars on it, but this photo makes me wish I did.

Even the brown paper bag in the other hand can't take away from the freshness of this outfit. I love how the orange bag brings out the warm tones of the stars in her sweater. I also love the pairing of a**-kicking boots with a preppy tweed vest.

Easygoing Leather: It’s not cheap, but a good leather jacket can last for decades, and can take on a range of personalities. It’s warm too! I got one last year with simple styling, and I am not afraid of getting it dirty, because I can wipe it clean with a damp cloth. (And dark colors hide dirt well.)

Wait! Here's an outfit that I could actually imagine wearing as-is.

Boots with Skirts: Just a reminder that boots don’t just go with pants – I love boots so much they probably deserve their own blog post. I keep mine waterproof by taking it to the shoe place for waterproofing at the beginning and end of every rainy season. I don’t mind if my boots take a beating – unlike with more delicate shoes, it only adds to their character. (I do avoid suede boots for kid-related activities because they age less gracefully than standard leather.)

Boots with Skirt

Sometimes pairing opposites like clunky boots and delicate skirts can make for a fun contrast.

Just for Fun

Let's play dress up

I can't imagine what you could take away from this photo, other than, "Ouch, those shoes look like they hurt." On the other hand, my 3 year old daughter would love to play dress up with that skirt (which appears to come straight out of the remnant bin at Joanne Fabrics.)

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Not every outfit has staying power. This one should probably have stayed in the closet – though without taking risks, you might miss out on creating the outfits you end up loving the most!

Sarah-Rutson puffy vest

I was really glad to see the sporty puffer vest featured as a haute couture item on Elle.com - I pretty much live in mine, though I don't wear it with platform ankle boots and a trippy Native American long john pant.

Last Look: Are moms cool enough to pull this off?

Sandals with socks

The caption to this photo on Elle's site is "Keep your spring sandals in rotation year-round by pairing them with thin cashmere socks." My caption for moms (or anyone over 30) would be, "Don't try this look at home, because on anyone but hipsters in their 20s, this look is reminiscent of wearing socks with your Birkenstocks." (Then again, what do I know, I wasn't the one photographed for Elle.com, was I?)

Overall, I am impressed by how wearable these looks are by us regular folks on the street – putting aside the pricey handbags, on the whole they seem quite achievable with ordinary wardrobe items. There is very little fuss visible in putting these outfits together, especially considering these ladies are among the who’s-who of the fashion world. Rather than conforming to the latest trends, they look like they are having fun expressing themselves through clothes – which is really the point of all this, isn’t it?

Reblog: Fighting the Great Armpit Fat War of ’12

26 Mar

A great post from a fellow mommy-blogger about bras After Kids – or “booby straps” as my 3yo daughter calls them…

Fighting the Great Armpit Fat War of ’12.

A Warm Wind is Blowing (At Least in the Malls)

18 Mar

Just last week, I ate at a restaurant with Christmas decorations still up, and there was frozen grass on the morning walk to school not too long ago. But you’d never know it’s still winter by looking at the shop windows of clothing stores at the local mall.

Spring has sprung according to the retail merchandising calendar, and there are a few mom-compatible trends I want to try out for myself this season:

Nautical stripes

Splendid Navy Stripe crop

Nautical stripe looks fresh with lighter pants and layers well on colder days.

You can see them everywhere, on tops, tunics, and shift dresses. Remember the saying that horizontal stripes make you look fat? Not true. With a top that’s cut close to the body either at the waist or in the lower arm, and paired with slim pants, stripes can look light and fresh. You see them just about everywhere, from sweaters to t-shirts to tunics. I like the version with navy blue stripes on an off white (not bright white) background. Also, dense stripes can look busy, I tend to like a wider spacing to avoid giving myself a headache when looking in the mirror.

Above is a top I recently picked up at Anthropologie by Splendid tees. It costs more than I would have liked (over $50), but the cotton is silky soft,  and the cut is flattering and easy to wear; form fitting without binding, and falls below the hip. The stripe is a warm grey that is fun to coordinate with other neutrals. I have a feeling I am going to be living in this shirt well through the summer.

After feeling how comfy that Splendid top was, I got more interested in that brand. Turns out it’s a company dedicated to stylish, casual, nubby t-shirts! If only their prices were a bit lower. (Don’t you just want to dive your face into the closet below?)

Splendid Fabrics

"Yummy Fabric & Color" according to Splendid.

Wedge heel shoes

I get a boost in height and and add a fun accent to a plain outfit with wedge heels. I wouldn’t run after my toddler in them, but if I am going to wear heels, these are probably the most comfortable way to do it. I also like that they convey a laid-back bohemian chic, a reminder of old, carefree days of kicking around town in style before kids. Here are my favorite wedge heel looks – waiting for the sale on these though:

Awesome suede bootie by JCrew:

Wedge heel bootie by J Crew

My favorite shoe trend this spring: the wedge heel (it's everywhere)

I also love the espadrille version by Toms:

The wedge heel espadrille by Toms

In case you’ve never heard of Toms, it’s a shoe company that promises to give one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes they sell. The shoes are simply made, but comfy, and their social mission means you see their flats on 20-something feet everywhere. (Did I mention they also have toddler and kids sizes?) If you want to try them on, stop by Nordstroms, which carries them in several colors. I can’t see myself wearing a heel this high every day, but definitely appealing for dinner out or date night.

The Shirt Dress

This trend takes the crisp tailoring of a collared mens shirt and extends the length to become a dress. Hey, the chance to wear a collared shirt, with no office in sight – there’s something very appealing about that. Plus, the length is very flattering for all body types. I would opt to wear the shirt dress with cropped leggings or skinny jeans rather than bare legged, for the sake of modesty. (Short skirts and childcare don’t mix well, in my opinion.)  For going out to dinner on a breezy summer evening, I would go with sandals and bare legs. Either way, a belt adds definition at the waist and keeps it from looking like you raided your husband’s pajama drawer.

I first noticed this look on Rachel Mc Adams who appeared in the recent Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” as an American tourist abroad. (Fun movie, by the way, if you haven’t seen it yet.) I couldn’t find a good image of the outfit online, but as it turns out, a web site has created the knockoff look:

Midnight In Paris Outfit

The shirt dress looks great with a belt, and, look - there's that wedge heel again!

I do have a few reservations about the dress shirt. For one, where do you get a reasonably priced version that’s easy to maintain? J. Crew had one in the store the other day for $100+, which I can’t even consider it until it goes on sale. (Other than jeans, I don’t pay more than $100 for anything I wear around my children for fear of their greasy fingers. I have several pairs of pants with greasy stains in the lap; since they otherwise work well and fit great, I just go around with permanent grease stains on my pants.)

Then there’s the question of how to keep that collar looking crisp and fresh. It goes without saying that I am unwilling to wear anything that needs ironing or a run to the dry cleaners. (I don’t even know where my ironing board is! Do we still own one?)  If only J. Crew married the Land’s End wrinkle-free technology and came out with a no-iron shirtdress. Their current selection is made of conventional cotton poplin, dress-shirt material, which is going to need ironing. Here’s a real opportunity for moms to look polished without much extra effort – Land’s End, are you listening?

Lands End carries a few shirt dresses at reasonable prices - but until they come in wrinkle-resistant fabric, this look is really not mom-friendly.

After a bout of cold weather, the weather turned warm last weekend, and we went to the beach in Capitola. It was really nice to lay face down on a beach blanket and feel sun on the underside of my bare feet.  I’ll take a real spring day on the beach over a fake spring day in the mall any day.  After all, the clothes and sales will wait for me, but my kids seem to wake up a little bit taller every day.  A day spent digging the world’s deepest sand tunnel under a warm, cloudless sky is far more precious than trying on one more pair of shoes in the mall.

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