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Friday, December 27, 2013

Post Holiday Blues

I used to absolutely loathe the holidays.  I dreaded their arrival, denied their existence, and tried to pretend they weren't going to come back around next year.  My family consists solely of my mother and I, so the holidays were always a depressing reminder of all the loved ones we lost much too soon.  On top of that, since I hated myself I felt like I didn't deserve any gifts and would hate opening them.  After all, why is my mom buying me a lovely new coat when all I did was be an asshole the past year?

I have to say I love them now, so much so that I get sad when they're over.  I've come to realize my mom encompasses all the good things about a big family in one tiny little woman, and I appreciate her so much.  She picks out wonderful things for me and I loved spending the time thinking hard about what to get for her and my boyfriend.  We aren't list givers mainly because I can never decide on anything to put on a damn list, but it's a lot of fun that way - often things you'd never even expect receiving come your way and it's more of a surprise.

This year, I got my boyfriend Rangers tickets on the new sky bridges at MSG and a Theory overcoat (called a peacoat online but doesn't look like one, although maybe not all pea coats are double breasted)  that reminds me of the one Idris Elba as John Luther wears in his eponymous show, Luther.  For his little presents, I got him loafer socks from J. Crew (a must for those who wear boat shoes but unfortunately more expensive than socks should be and they seem to disappear much more easily than regular sucks) and made him little individual packages of (homemade, obv) cookie dough balls for him to make.  This guy went from eating a package of Chewy Chips Ahoy every night when he met me to now making himself 3-4 Pillsbury break-and-bake cookies fresh every night, so I figured it was time to Upgrade Him a little further.

 Little packages of cookie dough balls to keep in the freezer for easy thawing and baking!  

I spent hours listening to busy signals to get tickets to see a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for my mom, and made us reservations at a nice Asian Fusion restaurant for after to enjoy some good drinks and good sushi.  I think these all went over well.  For my grab bag, I got my boyfriend's brother a J. Crew sweater, a Timex Weekender (great watch for active people), and I made him some cookie dough fudge.

I spent a lot of time watching Twin Peaks and napping, and it was really a very nice holiday overall.  My boyfriend came over on Christmas Eve and he, my mother and I went to one of our favorite restaurants on Staten Island for a late lunch, Bayou.  We shared a bunch of appetizers and two pitchers of sangria and got some jambalaya and just had really a wonderful time there.  It was nice and festive - my mom cooks great meals all the time so holidays seem a little different when you go out and drink and eat too much.

On Christmas we went to my closest friend's house - she has a truly amazing family and group of close family friends and I always have so much fun there.  My mom, the antisocial lady she is, has lots of fun too but it's always a bit of a hassle getting her out and there.  I am so thankful for friends like those, ones that welcome you into their family with open arms when they don't need to, don't judge you when you bring gooey butter bars that look like something that went through a garbage disposal (oops), and make you feel like you're really a part of the family, even if you haven't seen them in a while.  Those are really the friends worth keeping (nod to my Historical Artifacts post) throughout any ups and downs or losses of contact in life.

Today I am back at work; only one other person is here in my little systems group.

Blazer: Joie Barberry B // Pants: Vince // Tank: J. Crew Vintage Cotton Tank // Boots: Vince Camuto Quilted boots w/ gold heel // Bag: Balenciaga Black RH City

The boots and blazer were both Christmas gifts from my mom.  We had seen the boots in a TJ Maxx once and I passed on them and regretted it and then everywhere else we want just never had them in my size.  I was very surprised to see that she managed to find them since TJ Maxx shopping is often such a crapshoot (or is it Craps shoot?  I think writing here has helped me realize I am not good at spelling idiomatic phrases).

A new little (big!) buddy for my desk from my momma

Love these folders my boyfriend got me.  

Knock Knock makes the cutest stationary and desk things; they're nice and colorful and make work seem a little more bright.  He got me another set of folders and sticky notes that say "SERIOUSLY?" on them and I think they're very cute.  He's a big fan of making "To Do" lists so I got him the big CRAP to do, to buy etc pad for Christmas last year and now we try to find each other new cute ones all the time.

He also got me a Ryan Gosling coloring book, which was amazing and adorable and so funny.  These were of course the small gifts but sometimes those are the cutest and most fun to open, because those are the things that you really had to think about someone's likes to buy.  Sure I mentioned needing a weekend bag in passing but a Ryan Gosling coloring book?  How did he know I needed that, too?

Yes!

 I'm not much of a color-er but maybe now is the time to learn.

As an aside here to qualify this Ryan Gosling thing, in my senior year of college we had to invent a product or service and then spend a semester analyzing its profitability, developing a marketing plan, determining target demographics, and figuring out what our probable income would be.  I, naturally, decided my product would be a Ryan Gosling 3D Hologram Projector, so wherever you go you would have a 3D Ryan Gosling hanging out with you.  I would market it to the many educated women who are left single because their careers take up too much damn time and there aren't enough men in Boston, NY, DC, etc.  I wish I could put on some of the assignments I submitted for it - my TA even emailed me at the end of the semester saying he thought my project was both the funniest and most well thought out invention he had ever encountered as a TA.  True story!  He didn't mention if it was his first time TA-ing though...

But the cookie dough fudge I gave his brother... man that stuff was good!  It involved making a sort of eggless cookie dough and then stirring that into a fudge base before adding chocolate chips.  I love the blog I got the recipe from and made a few minor changes (one, in fact, was an accident, but one I was happy with), and I highly suggest you check it out, Sally's Baking Addiction.

Pre-cut and ready to chill

Cookie Dough Fudge
recipe via Sally's Baking Addiction, with some very minor changes

Ingredients:

Cookie Dough

  • 1/3  cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp half-and-half (I used milk, recipe also says you could sub cream)
  • 1/2 cup AP floud

Fudge

  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half (I used cream here, recipe also says you could sub milk)
  • 4-5 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • handful or two or regular semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Line an 8x8 baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  I used parchment here because the bottom and sides lay flatter - sometimes the crinkles in aluminum foil catch the fudge and make unwanted jagged sides.
  2. Make the Cookie Dough by creaming the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand or handheld mixer.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Mix in vanilla, salt, and half-and-half/milk/cream.  Add the flour and mix until it just comes together into a dough - do not mix until smooth, just until everything is combined.
  3. Make the Fudge by combining the brown sugar, butter, salt, and half-and-half/milk/cream in a medium sized saucepan over medium low heat.  Stir until the butter is melted and the brown sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat.  Slowly stir in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until mixture is smooth and sugar is incorporated throughout.  Stir in vanilla and add more confectioners' sugar is desired.  The recipe says that the more sugar you add, the "thicker, firmer, and sweeter the fudge will be."  She used 5 cups.  
    • Megan's input: For whatever reason, I used about 3 and 3/4 cups and the based was getting so thick it was almost difficult to stir more sugar in.  I took a tiny taste and good lawd was it sweet!  Rather than continue to hurt my forearm and stir some more in, I decided to stop here to try to ensure the cookie dough flavor was not overpowered by the powdered sugar flavor.  My fudge still firmed up just fine so I can say it's safe to use less than the 4 cup minimum here, depending on how sweet and thick you like things!
  4. Add cookie dough to the fudge base and stir to combine.  If the mixture is not yet room temperature, keep stirring until it is.  Otherwise, fold in the mini chocolate chips and spread into prepared pan.  Chill until set, about 3-4 hours, and cut into squares.
    • Megan's input: I folded about a handful of regular sizes chocolate chips into the mixture before it was fully cooled.  They started to melt and naturally I started to freak out, convinced it was ruined.  I stopped stirring to keep the melted chocolate from fully combining so the fudge had somewhat of a marbled appearance.  I liked the way it was looking a lot so I folded in some more, folding a bit just until the melted chips made streaks in the fudge, and then placing in the fridge to try to keep the chocolate from melting further.  After it was cooled, I smoothed the fudge into the prepared pan and covered the top with mini chocolate chips, pushing them down and into the fudge and then putting more on the now bare spots on top.  I was apprehensive to really fold them in because, again, I didn't want all the melted chocolate to become uniform throughout.  I really feel like the slight chocolate flavor in the fudge added to the "cookie dough" flavor of it, and the darkening effect that the chocolate had made it look a lot more like real cookie dough.  The marbled appearance was pretty and I loved the way this came out, as did everyone else who tried it.


How was everyone else's holidays?  Did you guys get anything good?  I wanna hear about them!

I made a resolution for the next year to get a better camera so I feel more encouraged to do this more often - there are always clothes and things I want to write about but that I just can't capture well enough to even make it worthwhile.  Does anyone have recommendations for a super-super beginner's camera?  Keep in mind I haven't owned an actual camera since 2006, and never even used it anyway.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Just kidding, it's not.  It's the most stressful time of the year because I feel pressure from all sides to do things with them - friends, family, boyfriend, boyfriend's family, long lost friends, everyone.  I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's family and he wants me to do the same for Christmas, and I appreciate that but I feel like not having a family means everyone just assumes that you want to tag along to their stuff.  My mom and I may not have a big family to spend time with but that doesn't mean we want to deal with the holiday traffic and stress like other people do for their families for people who just aren't our family.  I'm hoping I can get my boyfriend to come down for dessert or something and spend some of a holiday with us, but it's not looking likely.  I gotta think of something good to bake to bring to my friend's house in case he doesn't - they're close and they're a wonderful family so it would be fun.

Last Christmas party of the year today!  Very excited to be done with them.

Sweater: Theory Tollie Sweater (although mine has a small pocket and this one doesn't) // Jeans: Rich & Skinny // Booties: Bourne Collection Lambourne Agatha

Now, on to the stress of people getting you little gifts and you not having gotten them anything because who would have anticipated that and then you have to feel uncomfortable and quickly get them something super last minute.  I think I hear my first awkward encounter walking over here now.......

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Casey Anthony and the Illusion/Delusion Distinction

I haven't written anything in a while because I've been spending my spare time scouring hundreds of pages of court evidence documents related to the Casey Anthony trial.  I know this is very old news and I don't know why I was prompted to even look any of this up, but once I find something I want to know more about I will not stop until I know absolutely everything about it.  It's a curse more than a gift, because even when it's something for school or work, I still obsess far beyond the amount necessary to gain a competent understanding of the material at hand and way too far into the minor details.

We all know the basics of the story:

  1. Girl has baby very young and lives at home with baby and parents.
  2. Baby isn't seen for a long time, grandparents start to worry and keep asking to see the baby but mom refuses.
  3. Mom's car is towed; when retrieved from impound lot, smells like "a dead body".
  4. Mom breaks down and claims her babysitter kidnapped her daughter 31 days ago and she has been looking for her.
  5. Parents accept this story because the alternative (that their daughter did something awful to their granddaughter) is much worse.
  6. Turns out babysitter never existed, daughter's remains are found months later, very decomposed and with no clear cause of death.
The lies here are purposeful.  The police were asking this woman where her daughter was and so she lied to keep from telling them the truth that would get her in trouble.  Her parents cared about finding the girl and would have been devastated by the news, so they needed to be lied to as well to keep police away from discovering the truth.

Upon reading much of this woman's internet correspondence, thoroughly logged into evidence, it becomes clear that these lies were the only ones that made sense.  Casey had been telling her friends for years that she worked as an event planner at Universal; she held no such job and never did.  She asked her mom to watch her daughter while she was at work and her mom dutifully agreed, and Casey never even had a job this whole time.  She made up email addresses and names for coworkers and sent fake emails around, changing her email address in the forwarded message portion to "C.Anthony@events.universal.com" to reflect her position, and for what?  To print out and show her mom?  As an aside, universal.com isn't even related to Universal Studios.

This whole time she was lying to her friends equally, telling them and boyfriends she had work to do or was going to work, telling another friend she was buying a house soon and this friend could move in, planning trips she would put off until there was no time left and she finally had to admit she wasn't going, telling people her dad "almost had a stroke" (not sure how one almost has a stroke) to get out of commitments.  Her lies were vast and far reaching, but they were also strange.

She told stories to friends and boyfriends about a coworker named Juliette who never existed.  She would flesh out these characters, adding children and siblings, and giving direct quotes from them and telling tales of their adventures together.  Where did these lies get her though?  What was the purpose for telling someone a story about a woman who doesn't exist, and what could she possibly get out of that?

I had a neighbor for a long time who lied to his parents about being in school.  He bragged about defrauding their insurance company with a fake record of attendance and having recreated the school seal to get highly accurate faux transcripts to be passable.  One summer, while claiming to be working at an engineering firm for an internship, he even got a second number that he gave his mother as his work number to make it seem all the more real.  My mother and I wondered how people could fall for his lies - they seemed so obvious to us, but certainly many parents are blind to their children's faults.  When we ultimately had a falling out after my mom refused to lie for this guy anymore, he made up even more elaborate and out there lies about the two of us - saying we put an ad on Craigslist giving his wife's phone number saying she wanted some casual encounters to come by...I mean come on - and his mother believed him again, leading us to lose some of the only family we had at that time.  It was devastating to us how his lies affected our lives, but to his parents, the people who he used his lies to steal money from under false pretenses, their lives went on fine so long as they never came to terms of what he really did, and what they fell for.

It makes me think about how with the internet and cell phones, we are so easily able to pretend to be someone we're not, offering up all of the illusions for the world to see.  Here we are at our job, here is our nanny's Facebook, here's the number for my office.  

Casey and my neighbor both built houses of cards that had to come down at some point.  Once her daughter had been killed (accidentally, in my opinion), she kept making her lies more and more elaborate, but she must have known that she would have to stop at some point.  How would she never allow anyone to see her daughter again?  Even if she ran away, she had a pretty big internet presence that would have helped anyone track her down.  The illusions she offered her parents crossed the line into delusions, deluding herself that somehow this would be believable or somehow she could get away with this.  She went out and immersed herself into life with her boyfriend, using him to help her forget about the stress of the lies she was keeping up.  I've found myself doing that before - clinging to someone to help me keep my mind off of things in my life that were falling apart - and so I can understand how it helped her to keep from needing to face reality.  

But had there been no ability to fake emails from her work, had there been no way of finding real people online whose names could lend credence to your stories, how long would these lies have gone on for?  How long could she have kept these illusions up before someone could finally confront her and force her back into reality, force her to stop deluding herself and accept what is really going on right here and right now?  I wonder, if she didn't have a cell phone allowing her to constantly call her parents and tell them "later, I'll bring her later!" how much sooner they would have gone out looking for her, and how much pain they might have saved themselves.  

The thing that strikes me the most about both of these people is that they seemed to really see themselves totally differently than they were.  By constantly talking about what they were going to do (i.e. "I'm moving out next month", "I'm going back to school next semester", "I'm entering a partnership at this restaurant and they want to make me co-owner", "my wife's dad is going to buy us a penthouse on the UES", etc) it seems like both lost sight of what they were actually doing, which was nothing.

It's hard to believe that spending a day sitting in bed talking about being at work could provide the same fulfillment as actually spending a day at work, but it seems like these people really believe that.  Perhaps the stress of making and keeping up the lie is akin to the stresses of moving out and having high powered jobs, all the things they said they were doing, but I wonder how people can get narcissistic enough that they think they can just lie about everything to everyone, and everyone will believe it.  

I can't say I am not guilty of trying to delude myself as well, to be sure.  For a year I lied to everyone in my life about not being in school because I was humiliated and embarrassed that I had a difficult time.  My mother knew but none of my friends did, and the stress of having to come clean was unbearable to me, even though I knew that this was something I was only hurting myself with.  As I came clean, as I started turning my life around, I gained an empathy that I had never felt before - I could relate to people on new levels and really feel for them, and I could face my own realities every single day.  So, which ended first?  The delusion, or the narcissism.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Molten Chocolate Cakes and More Christmas Party Clothes

I am obsessed with chocolate lava cakes.  I pick restaurants based on whether they have a lava cake on the dessert menu, and I am not joking.  Once there was a lava cake available and I didn't order it and instead got some double chocolate mousse confection and, while it was okay, I felt empty until I went back to that same restaurant to try their lava cake.

If you look up a recipe for a lava cake online you basically get one of two kinds:
  • a basic sponge that is just undercooked to keep the center liquid and raw
  • a contraption where you freeze some ganache and then make a little ball of it and stick it into the middle of your uncooked cake so as the cake around it cooks, the frozen center simply turns liquid
These are okay.  Passable, even.  But the best one is one I have never seen any other recipe like, and even now as I try to find it online so I can credit it or something I can't, so I am going to have to type this out from memory and then check later.

This was originally from a Gourmet magazine.  They used to have a feature where if you wanted a recipe from a certain restaurant, you could send the request to Gourmet and then Gourmet would ask the restaurant and publish it in the magazine.  My mom did this once wayyyy back when with a chocolate decadent recipe from a restaurant in Brooklyn I believe, she said it was my dad's favorite but she has yet to make it for me (hmph).  She still has the recipe they sent back to her though, handwritten, and I will have to take a picture of it for this one day.

Anyway, this was a recipe requested from a restaurant in Cannes and I will update with the name of the restaurant later, and it is fantastic.


Chocolate Fondant Cakes
recipe from Gourmet Magazine, date unknown

Ingredients:
  • 7 ounces GOOD bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (I use semisweet)
  • 1 3/4 sticks of butter
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso (I omit this)
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1/2 plus 1/3 cup sugar
Directions:
  1. Preheat the over to 350 F.  Butter 8 or so ramekins and place them all in a big baking pan.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate together and let cool until lukewarm.
  3. Beat the eggs and sugar together using an electric mixer until thick and light.  While this is happening, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking powder, espresso if using).
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the egg and sugar mixture.
  5. Fold the cooled chocolate/butter mixture into the batter.
  6. Split the batter among the prepared ramekins, filling only 1/2-3/4 of the way.  Add more ramekins if necessary, but I recommend eating the remaining batter.
  7. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until the tops are just looking done.  
  8. Whip together some cream with a tiny (TINY) bit of powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla extract.
  9. Eat immediately with whipped cream.
  10. Place remaining cakes in the fridge or freezer.  From the fridge, microwave for 15-30 seconds to take the chill off and get the centers oozing again before eating.


Microwaved leftover version - the creamy center oozes out the top too and it is heavenly

My favorite thing about these I think is that they are fantastic the next day.  They're tough to make for entertaining because you can't make too many at once, but then you also can't eat 8 fondant cakes at once so what's a girl to do?  Have one every night for the next week is the correct answer.  Or throw some in the freezer for when you come home after a long day and know just a margarita is not going to cut it.

Tonight is the Christmas party I get to go to because I worked on the project - Riker's Island Correctional Facility (yes) Cogen.  I keep joking with everyone it's going to be just me and the guards.

It's being held at the (apparently) oldest tavern in NYC and should be a good time.  I wore what I'm wearing later to work because I know if I had to go home and change and find something to wear, I would have an anxiety attack and probably hate everything on me.


Top: J. Crew Glimmer Long Sleeve Tee // Skirt: Emporio Armani // Belt: Wilfred (Aritzia) // Shoes: Tahari // Polish: Essie "Little Brown Dress"

I hope this will be fancy enough.  It's freezing out so staying warm is my main priority right now, otherwise I would have worn a dress I'm sure.  I love this long sleeve sequined tee from J. Crew a few years back because the color is unexpected for sequins and because it's slim fitting without being tight.  I wore it with black skinny jeans and high black boots to a few Christmas dinner parties the year I got it and then forgot about it because it's really a very "holiday" top, but hopefully I will put it to use this year.  

The skirt is from a consignment shop in Santa Fe and I don't know why I bought it because it is definitely too big (even the size is 2 sizes bigger than I'd normally buy) so the belt is necessary to keep it from falling down.  It fits my hips all right though, so I can't imagine how tight it would be if it was actually my size.  

This store, The Beat Goes On, is a great consignment shop.  I have a feeling that people from the east coast move to Santa Fe for a different vibe and just get rid of all their east coast-y clothes out there, swapping their business-y Armani skirts and structured Prada blazers for some of the colorful Etro jackets and loose Eskandar tops that are much more popular down there.  This works out very well for me, as you can imagine, and I have definitely made some seriously good finds at the consignment shops there, this one in particular.  My favorite purchase was a seemingly new Narciso Rodriguez collarless jacket for $90 - the detail and craftsmanship is impeccable and obvious from all the seaming, making the jacket a beautiful fit and a very interesting item to add to my wardrobe.  The women working there were great too, helping me pick out things and showing me pieces they thought I'd like that I might not have found otherwise.  I highly recommend it if you're ever in the area!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Moving On

I'm not one to forgive and forget - I hold grudges and it's a terrible personality flaw but it's hard to fix.  This guy at my work has ruined my whole work experience for me, and it's both 1) a fucking shame for me and 2) a fucking shame for my company.  I find it hard to be productive anymore because I don't like being here.  I dread coming in and have been leaving later and later, and when I'm here his booming voice just makes me want to punch someone in the face.

While I sit here in my new cubicle, alone, I get to hear him chatting it up with the people who I used to sit with, who I used to converse with regularly because all it required was turning around.  Now? I turn around and there's no one, I'm just sitting here by myself.

How is this fair?  I am very sensitive to other people's feelings about me and so being so totally left out all of the time is a really awful feeling for me and makes it hard for me to enjoy being here.  I'm tearing up as I write this because it really is so sad; I had a job I loved with people I loved working with and now, I can't get anything done and I can't even spend a day here without wanting to kill someone.  Always the same someone though...

Dreaming of a White Tuesday

So when I left this morning it was almost 40 degrees and the weather was fine.  When I got to work and parked, it looked like this:

snow!
I am staying at my boyfriend's tonight to avoid having to travel home in this weather, and we were planning on going to one of our favorite restaurants (Harvest Bistro in Closter, NJ - if you're ever nearby seriously go, but be warned that there is only valet parking in case you're similar to me in having mild Asperger's/severe social awkwardness and really just fucking hate having to valet your damn car) but it's looking like maybe it will be a pick up Thai food and cuddle in bed watching anything and everything starring Idris Elba on Netflix kind of night.

The other day I got this watch in the mail and opened it up and tried it on and asked my mom what she thought.  She gave me a weird look and said, "you ordered it?" and I took that to mean that she wasn't feeling it but later figured out that she had bought it for me for Christmas so now she has to go back and figure something else out.  It should have been a sign when I went back on to the Neiman Marcus website and it said it was out of stock!  My favorite two-tone watch is being repaired and this helped me realize there was a hole in my watch collection.  I've been wanting a big gold one forever but found the all gold ones to be a little too gaudy, so I like the navy accents on this one that help tone it down and give it some more masculine features.  I tried to match it almost exactly with my clothes today, I think I came pretty close.

Watch: Michael Kors Everest ... not sure if it is men's or women's but I am into it

Sweater: Theory // Pants: 3.1 Phillip Lim // Shoes: Tory Burch

Belt: Tommy Hilfiger

Coat: Burberry Brit // Bag: Louis Vuitton Neverfull MM

Flats in the snow are really no good.  What do fellow working women wear in to work when it's snowing?  I almost slipped and fell just on the walk from my car to the door this morning, but I didn't think to bring my Sorel snow boots with me.  Are there cuter weather friendly alternatives?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hoarders: Samples Edition

I am what you could call a samples hoarder.  Every time I make a Sephora order online I excitedly pick my 3 small free samples and scour the weekly deals to determine what deluxe sample I can get with a promo code.  Sometimes I even use my points (I have 922 amassed...I guess I am a points hoarder too) to get even more deluxe size samples.

When I get the box I marvel at how there are more free items in there than whatever I actually paid for.  I put all the samples away in my "sample drawer" carefully and then never look at them again.

I realize that my logic for not using them is strange.  I feel like since they are things I don't own full sizes of I should save them for a special occasion, particularly the samples of more expensive items like YSL Touche Eclat, but then when a special occasion comes I tell myself I should use something tried-and-true rather than break out a sample and risk looking like a disco ball or something else.  That's how they never, ever get used.

A peak into my samples drawer

Everything laid out

The real issue with this isn't so much the hoarding (my mom would disagree here), but that most of the time the items get wasted by drying up before I get a chance to use them.  A Stila smudge pot sample had great potential, but by the time I dared to try it a year after receiving it, it was dried out to the point that even some drops of water couldn't save it.

So I am making a pledge - I am going to clean out my damn samples drawer and try everything, and I will log it here so I can remember my feelings about specific items and whether or not I want to try purchasing the full size.  Over the weekend I used three (3!) samples up.

1. Diorskin Nude BB Cream in Fair 002
Photo credit: Sephora

This was really, really nice, had great coverage for a BB cream and made my skin feel really nice.  The problem with foundation samples is that you can't really tell if they will make you break out or not after a few uses, but this is one I would definitely try out because it masked my oiliness without making me look flaky and dry, and had really nice coverage without looking caked on.  The color itself was perfect for my skin.

2. Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat in Luminous Radiance 1.0, Luminous Ivory 2.0 and Luminous Sand 4.5
Photo credit: Sephora

Almost everyone everywhere has been singing the praises of Touche Eclat for a while now, but I've been hesitant to pick it up because of the price; at $40 it's a full $10 more than my preferred highlighter at the moment, Benefit Girl Meets Pearl.  I was blown away by this though, especially in shade 2.0.  1.0 was a little too pink for me, 4.5 was a little to dark, but 2.0 was seriously perfect.  It lit up my face and gave me that "glow from within" I'm always searching for, and did not look too shiny or shimmery at all.  I think I will buy this when I run out of Girl Meets Pearl but there is another highlighter/luminizer sample waiting for me in my drawer (Benefit Watts Up) so maybe that will be even better.

3.  Cover FX CC Cream in N Light
Photo credit: Sephora

I found the texture of this to be very dry and thick and hard to blend, but I will say that that could very well just be the fact that it's been sitting in a drawer for a long time.  The real reason I won't ever be buying this: the smell.  It wasn't bad like rotten eggs milk gone sour bad, but it was strong and just not pleasant.  I don't think I am particularly sensitive to smells but I also don't wear perfume so maybe other people would be less bothered by this.  Having tried this right after the Dior BB Cream, I can't even believe that this one costs more, or even close to the same amount.  Where the Dior sample was creamy and luxurious, this one was difficult and smelled very chemical-y.  Oh well, at least that's one I've ruled out!

This past Friday was my boyfriend's Christmas party.  They go so over the top with it in a way that I am glad my company doesn't - if I wasn't getting as big a raise as I deserved so my company could hire a 12 person band outfit for the Christmas party, I would not be a happy camper.  It was lovely though, and all the food was great with the exception of dessert which was noticeable and shockingly lacking chocolate, the most integral part of dessert.  The closest thing was a strawberry covered in white and milk chocolate but milk chocolate is barely even in the same family as a good dark chocolate, forget about white.  I got home craving something rich and bittersweet.  Pictures are not up yet but I will post some as they are.  Last year there was a photobooth that we enjoyed playing around with, but this years was just out in the open rather than covered, right in front of the line of people waiting to have caricatures drawn of themselves.  I opted not to wait an hour on line for that as some did, but we did get some cute photobooth pics, even if it was much more uncomfortable making funny faces and thinking of cute poses out in front of all his coworkers,



Dress: Alice and Olivia Birch Boatneck Dress // Clutch: Balenciaga GGH Premier in Ciel // Shoes: BCBGeneration Tinas Forest Croc Patent // Nails: Julep "Char"

If you're ever looking for good, comfy pumps at a good price, these BCBGeneration Tinas pumps are them.  They're high but not stripper-esque, have a slim heel that won't wobble, and inexplicably never bother my feet.  I have them in all different colors, and wearing these green ones for the first time has reminded me how much I love them and inspired me to get more.

This Julep polish came with my PopSugar Must Have box from October.  I love the color - a true navy creme without any shimmer that escapes the dreadful "almost-black" territory that most dark cremes fall into.  However, the formula is really, really not so hot.  It's thick and clumpy, and I think I am going to have to dump some Seche Restore in before I try this polish again because the thick coats I ended up with chipped and peeled off my nails way too easily.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Gimmicks

So I've been getting bombarded with emails about PANTONE announcing their new color or the year. This company does this every year and it's apparently a pretty huge deal so let me say I was absolutely ecstatic to learn that this year's color if the year is......

Wait, who gives a shit? Stop trying to sell me stuff with these dumb gimmicks. 

Grab Bags, and the Circular Logic Encouraged by the Ego

Grab bags are tough.  The reason you do one is because you don't know the people you're exchanging with that well and so it's silly to get a big gift for everyone involved, and then you're given this very narrow price range your gift must fall in between, and then the person tells their wife to tell you they could use some new shirts and sweaters and stuff but then that seems too impersonal, but so is a gift card, and so is anything else you could get them that you would guarantee they'd use.

I am easy.  Buy me nail polish and a cute iPhone case and I am happy as a clam.  I have my boyfriend's brother and I am just at a loss.  We are spending between $50 and $75 which is not that that's a hard range but it's really not quite enough to get two nice things but just getting one shirt in that price range seems silly and wasteful.  My boyfriend bought a really nice shirt from eBay recently that I was hoping would be a leeeeettle too small on him so I could pass it off to his bro but alas, it fit him perfectly.

The work party last night was interesting.  I ran into one of the major drawbacks of being one of the only women in your office, and that is that people seem to think you're always flirting with them.  I guess I can see how it can be seen that way - being a woman in a big group of men means you need to be able to interact with them the way they do, which is usually by teasing and joking around and it's something I'm generally pretty good at.  However, in other situations like at a bar or on a date, that same teasing would be seen as the kind of ribbing that often goes along with the beginning of dating someone new.

I used to enjoy spending time on the subreddit for pick up artists, /r/seduction or Seddit.  It was endlessly entertaining because the tips they offered were so ridiculously simplistic and absurd, and the "field reports" offered by men having their first experience picking up women in a bar were so uncomfortable and obviously exaggerate, akin to that scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carrell likens the feel of a woman's breast to a bag of sand.  Frankly it wasn't only offensive to women for assuming they are idiots but also to men for assuming that they are essentially cavemen incapable of thought independent from their all-consuming horniness.

They laid out lots of tips for flirting, but one of the major ones was engaging in "kino".  This is escalating those little touches from a graze on the arm to a hand on the small of a back and then whatever else comes after that.  According to the sexperts on Seddit, this is an integral part of the flirting process in taking things from "friendly people chatting" to the next level, whatever that is.

I hate being touched.  I don't know why, I've just never liked it.  I am very jumpy and I always remember when someone would touch me unexpectedly (innocently of course!) I would absolutely jump out of my skin and have to deal with my heart pounding out of my chest for what felt like hours.  I also close my eyes whenever the music starts building up in scary movies, believe it or not.  I also like to be respectful of other people's personal space in case they're as weird and awkward as me, so I don't really touch people either if it isn't an absolute necessity.

Keeping in mind that this is not something I engage in, I was surprised when a drunk coworker told me I act flirtatiously towards men in the office.  Most of them are married and many have kids my age or older, so I've never really thought about it too much because it just doesn't seem like it would be an issue, but I was taken aback by this.  I watched another girl interact as she touched people's backs and shoulders as she spoke to them and wondered if she would be accused of the same thing.  I dress very conservatively, I almost never bring up any sort of sexual topic in conversation and make no allusions to it, and I don't touch anyone - how could I be the flirtatious one here?  An older secretary plants kisses on the cheeks of unsuspecting coworkers and most of the other HR/secretary/accounts women dress very provocatively (low cut shirts, very high open heels, skinny jeans), and are they similarly accused?  The most provocative I get is a sheath dress but on my body there's hardly anything risque to see.

I was slightly upset but mostly confused.  How could I have done this without my knowing?  I hope this was just his drunkenness talking, or maybe even a drunk and misguided attempt at flirting on his part, because I certainly don't want to be seen as the flirty girl because that means I'm not being seen as the intelligent, indispensable female employee.

In some ways, I think that this is indicative of the arrogance and ever-enlarging egos of men that they assume that any woman talking to them is flirting with them or trying to engage them in some kind of non-platonic relationship.  We've all heard about the woman who was fired from a bank for being too attractive and "tempting", and it's insane to me because a woman's attractiveness cannot and should not be conflated with temptation.  Temptation implies two parties interested in the same thing and considering it; a woman being attractive is not tempting you unless she is openly and actively showing interest.  Telling women that they are being flirtatious seems to me like just another way of marginalizing our value in the workplace - I can do my work during the day but any socializing done outside of the workplace or looking up from my computer just sums up to me trying to tempt the men around me.  This guy's reasoning doesn't make sense; he thinks I am acting flirtatious because he is working on a previous assumption that I have the desire to be flirtatious or engage in some sort of non-platonic relationship here, begging the question.

Today, my non-flirtatious self is fully covered.  As was my non-flirtatious self on Wednesday, when I took a picture of my clothes but, naturally forgot to post here.


Shirt: Magaschoni Leopard Pin Dot Shell // Sweater: Theory // Pants: J. Crew Cafe Capri

Shirt: Rag and Bone // Sweater: Vince Stella Sweater (but don't buy it there, that is not a good deal at all) // Pants: Hilton Hollis

As a tall girl, it is so hard to find full length pants that aren't ankle length on me so you might notice me wearing ankle pants all winter, and believe me I am not any happier about it than you are.  J. Crew sells "tall" lengths which are usually fine but can only be bought online and pants are tough to buy without trying on if you are unfamiliar with the cut.  Does anyone know of any good place to buy pants for tall girls that aren't supposed to be ankle length or don't end up being ankle length?  The search continues...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

To Clarify,

If you wait until the very last second, or beyond, to merge when your lane is ending, you are a dick.

No doubt about it, you're a dick.  Sorry.

I drew a helpful diagram for those who still aren't sure if they're a dick or not.


As you can see clearly, the car on the top merging at the last possible second thereby forcing everyone to stop and let him in, halting the flow of traffic, is a dick.  The car below, which saw an opening and took it like a normal, rational human being, is not a dick.  

If you're still not sure if you're being a dick, ask yourself, "am I acting like my time/comfort/happiness is more important than other people's?"  This applies to lots of things as well, such as being late, allowing your child to scream in a restaurant, walking four across on the sidewalk in Times friggin' Square.  If you can answer yes to this (and be honest with yourself!) you're being a dick.  So stop.

Tonight is my work Christmas party!  We go right after work and last year I changed at the end of the day since it is held in a fairly fancy place but I felt silly doing that since I work with all men and no one gives a shit so I tried to dress down a dress-uppable dress. Whew.



Sweater: J. Crew // Dress: Karen Millen

My skin cannot hold a tan so I might use a little bronzing lotion later on, I just don't want my sweater to be covered in it.  Dilemmas!  This dress is another item I own from the biggest star of our time, Jenna Elfman, so I imagine people will be begging me to touch it all night.  I am also wearing patent green croc shoes so it might end up looking nice and christmas-y or like I got dressed in the dark.  I'll update which it is when I put them on.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Addendum

I was trying to find some sales figures for Black Friday this year and happened upon this article in the WSJ by Suzanne Kapner.  In it, she details how retailers raise prices on their items so that, even with a discount, their profit margins remain the same.  She also mentions that JC Penney at one point tried to abandon big sales altogether in favor of "everyday low prices" but it was a flop with customers trained to salivate at 40% off signs.

I used to shop more frequently at the Saks Off Fifth Outlet but rarely found anything worth buying there.  The clearance section was always an extra 40% or 50% off any time I went in and one day I saw a silky Vince top on the clearance rack and got excited.  It was one I had been eyeing for a while but since it was a white silk pullover, I was hesitant to pay too much for it since I somehow always manage to transfer makeup onto my clothes.  And my steering wheel, it's covered in makeup from doing it in the car; in fact I used make up remover wipes to clean it when leather cleaner wasn't doing the trick.  But anyway, I saw it and the clearance price on the red sticker was $128.99, and this is the price I would be getting 50% off of.  This number seemed vaguely familiar though, so I peeled back the red sticker a big just to see that the earlier price it was covering, the non-clearance price, was $128.99.  I gasped in shock and horror (not really) and vowed never to return.  Saks was trying to make me think I was getting a really good deal, an item marked down from full price going into the outlet store, then further marked down to clearance, and then 50% off on top of that!  It sounds pretty good, and that bright red tag only reinforces that for the shopper.  Calling it a "scam" might be a stretch, but it's deceptive and it bothers me that companies can just do that kind of thing, totally misrepresent the price markdowns, and it isn't an issue.

Oh well, at least I learned to always peel back the stickers a litttttle bit.

Getting Good Deals, Part II

My mother and I absolutely love Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It's such a huge change from New York not just in climate and landscape but also in the people and general atmosphere.  Stepping off your plane in the Santa Fe airport, which by the way is so small they don't even have baggage carousels they just put everyone's bags on a counter to claim, it's like you've been transported to the moon.  It even makes that whole the moon-landing-never-happened conspiracy seem all the more plausible; this place is so unlike anything else I've seen and I consider myself fairly well traveled.

Our favorite hotel there also happens to be our favorite hotel anywhere, the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado.  It's twenty minutes north of Santa Fe, surrounded by desert and mountains, and it is absolutely beautiful.  The casitas are enormous and comfortable, the hotel itself has hiking trails that go just far enough that you feel like you're really not anywhere near a resort anymore but not so far that it gets dark before you get back to where you started.  I actually plan on bringing the future architect of my brownstone (I'm ambitious) to the hotel so they can see the bathrooms and dressing area and recreate them exactly.  We've only gone in the late winter months so I can only imagine how beautiful it must be when the pool is open.

Sliding doors onto the patio across from my bed; this place is great for relaxing and meditating

View of the main hotel lobby from our patio.  There's a fabulous restaurant in there and an art gallery in the middle, obscured by a tree.  The bar at the restaurant is really nice and has wonderful servers who chatted with us and gave recommendations.

This bathroom.  Need.  Heated stone floors, extra large soaking tub, shower stall from heaven.  

This cake from room service was so good we got it at least twice.  The first time we went they had a great dessert we also ordered over and over, called Encantado Oreos.  They were homemade Oreo-type sandwich cookies served with vanilla milk and they were fantastic.

I'm not good at taking pictures, we've gone over this I think.

The first time we visited New Mexico coincided with a major life transformation for me (for the better!) so maybe that has something to do with the spiritual sort of connection I feel with the area.

But onto the deals.  While browsing around the square in Santa Fe my mother and I were looking for consignment shops.  We found a few nice ones and I was trying to flesh out my work wardrobe, so I Googled and found one nearby that we walked over to see.  Seeing it was only bags, we decided to just skip it and go on to the next one because that wasn't what I was looking for.  Unfortunately, it was brutally cold and windy that day so we just stepped in to warm up for a second.  This shop was beautifully curated (yeah, I said it) and had so many gorgeous items it was hard to know where to look.  I was shocked at the seemingly massive collection of designer items such a small store had.  The owner was there, Corey, and she was wonderful and patient with us.

I asked to try on a Chanel flap bag, which I had been lusting over for quite some time, but it just didn't seem right on me.  Sometimes I think that because of my height things that look great on more petite girls just look silly on me, and I felt like this was one of them.  While looking in the mirror, my mom had struck up a conversation with Corey who told her how she started her business, Real Deal Collection.  Her knowledge of both bags and brands blew us away, especially when she told us she had originally been involved in computer something (I forget... computer engineering? software engineering? something) before she abandoned that to start this.  She told us she originally fell in love with Balenciaga bags and sold only them but had now branched out to include lots more.

Balenciaga seemed like it wasn't my style.  Weren't those the "it" bags from, like, 2004 when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie would pair them with denim skirts, layered tank tops and kukui beads?  But then I saw the plain black classic City up close and I fell in love.  It wasn't dated looking like some of the neon colors, it just looked classic with an edge, which is how I like to envision myself.  The motorcycle styling kept an otherwise plain bag from being boring, and the size was perfect on me: big enough to holy the things I needed for a day, small enough that I could wear it out and not be bumping everyone with it.

After trying on about 1,000 different iterations of the bag in various colors and sizes, I bought my first Balenciaga.  And then came my second via my mom and my third via my boyfriend as birthday gifts.  I love them all, from the extra smooshy leather to the tiny details you only notice up close.

I am not easy on my things.  I ruin shoes like no one's business and bags, no matter how hard I try to take care of them, always end up scratched and scuffed.  For this reason, buying a used (pre-loved) Bal bag was not a concern for me - those same scuffs that exist are ones I would have gotten within 20 minutes of owning the bag anyway, so what difference does it make?  I have been taking care of these though, keeping them in their dustbags along with my Louis Vuitton and I even bought leather moisturizer for my City, the oldest of the bunch and the only one that looked like it had ever been used.  I think I moisturize her more than I do my own body.

There is a classic hardware weekender bag on sale and UGH I love it and want it but probably can't justify buying it for myself until after the holidays.  It would be so great for when a Longchamp doesn't hold enough but a duffel bag is overkill.  If my mom or my boyfriend happen to read this, I am not trying to give you a hint so don't take the easy way out here.

Buying consignment is something more people should consider.  Sure, the bag was still incredibly expensive, but it felt like a more responsible decision given my situation with trying to pay off my loans ASAP and whatnot.  I feel like I've worked so hard to be where I am right now, overcoming significant struggles and really coming out of it alive despite what everyone else in my life thought, and so I deserve some nice things that I want.  At the same time, I want to be careful and responsible about it, and I think that consignment and eBay shopping are good ways to do them both.  Would I love if a brand new Celine Luggage Tote was wrapped with a bow, sitting on my car when I left work today?  Sure, but I am not going to empty out my checking account (or ask anyone else to do so) just to make that happen.



I know the Kanye West song "New Slaves" refers specifically to black youth following in their favorite music artist or athlete's footsteps and spending money irresponsibly just to have the newest designer clothes ("Spending everythang on Alexander Wang") but I think that that is something that goes for youth in general.  So what if my City is from 2007?  It's beautiful and no one else can tell.  So what if the Vince sweater I am wearing is from three seasons ago?  Should I throw it out because people won't recognize it as part of the current line?  As much as the recent Barney's racial profiling scandal was disgusting and showed us the way those in higher society continue to view black people with means as criminals or products of affirmative action or whatever else, for me it also highlighted something else, something newer than the deep seated racism that still exists (Aside: is it deep seated or deep seeded?  Will look that up).  It was disheartening that a young boy felt the need to save up to buy himself a $350 Ferragamo belt when it's just a belt and anything would suffice; one doesn't care about tailoring or fit or even ability to carry stuff when it comes to a belt, just that it's the right size and does its job.  It's like our possessions are what define us, and all the Instagrammed pictures of people's BMWs and Rolex watches just reinforce that we need to have these things to be considered successes.  I don't see anyone Instagramming their degrees, or their job offer letters, or awards they've gotten; just new Gucci bags and and a new Mercedes CLA, seemingly designed specifically to cater to our generation of excess and showing off.

Black Friday was just another example of our hedonism; the minimum wage still puts you well below the poverty line but scores of people still lined up to buy all that they could, many probably just adding onto credit card debt they've been paying a minimum on for years.  We aren't informed - when I signed up for my student loans, no one told me what that meant and no one told me that "deferring interest payments" really meant they were calculating my interest the whole time and were just going to add it onto my principle, thus having me pay interest on my interest upon graduation.  But that's not what they said, they just said "while you're in school don't pay any interest!" which is incredibly deceptive.  The same thing goes for credit cards; while people feel like they have much more money than they do because of their access to credit, when they spend more than they have they are paying significantly more in the long run.  I bet if you added up all the interest people paid over time to show them, they would be aghast.

There used to be an ad for a payday loan service, Western Sky, that showed all the time.  It bothered me because I didn't understand why this company was advertising, and it was pretty absurd that they used very stereotypical Native Americans to advertise as though that has anything to do with the business.  The fine print during the commercial said an average APR for a $10,000 loan is 89.68%.  This means that by the end of the loan, if you pay it off using the minimum payment, you'll be paying around $62,000.  Even the lesser loan amounts work similarly with ridiculously high APRs and increasing loan fees that ensure the loaner is always paying back at least three times what they received.  Yet, these loans are marketed to those with the least means, making them much more susceptible to being essentially defrauded by this service because they need the money more desperately and thus don't read the fine print as carefully.  But this is why unregulated capitalism can't work; those with knowledge and power will invariably use it to rip off those without it.  There's no competition when the banks collude to rip us off by jacking up interest rates, or when stores consistently raise their price points as others do, or when oil companies give some stupid reason as to why they have an oil shortage thus artificially inflating prices and, somehow, even though they had to raise the prices just so they could keep operating, manage to beat their own record profits year after year.

Sometimes I finish typing an entry and wonder how I got to where I am.  I had a film class TA once tell me he thought my ideas were great but he wished I would focus on one thing rather than a million things.  I remember my final paper (a discussion of the treatment of masculinity in the Godfather) took me so long to write because I kept having to delete errant paragraphs.  If I did that here, I'd be left with nothing!

Real Deal Collection is located at 223 West San Francisco Street in Santa Fe.  It is just off the square and a very nice experience, especially if Corey is there to chat with you and show you her lovely Birkin.  They also have their inventory online so you can purchase from anywhere or scope out some specific items before you go in to see them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other Gimmicks

I consider myself a pretty savvy shopper.  As I type this I am wearing a plum J. Crew Lady Day Coat that currently sells for $365 (except not the plum color anymore, one of the Obama girls wore it and so J. Crew retired it out of respect and I am sure the president is very grateful that J. Crew showed such enormous respect for his teenage daughter's choice of coats) that I paid $40 for, new, on eBay.  And it was worn by Jenna Elfman in a TV Show and considering her immense star power (I'm joking, for the record) this is a big deal; frankly if there weren't so many die hard Dharma and Greg fans out there I probably could have snagged this for less but as it stood, people were literally killing each other to try and get Ms. Elfman's once worn coat.

So I've been getting emails about all these huge deals going on.  Neiman Marcus Last Call had 40% off your entire purchase starting midnight on Black Friday but they have that same exact deal going on every other week.  A friend texted me excitedly about J. Crew having 30% off your whole purchase but I have an email filled with J. Crew 25%, 30% and 40% off your whole purchase offers.  I considered going out to get some things on Friday but it's just all gimmicks.  It makes me wonder who these people are that are foaming at the mouth over all of these deals.  I saw many, many ads about the Big Box stores opening early and even on Thanksgiving night, but no information about any actual good deals they would be offering.  And really, why would they?  People are guaranteed to be buying around this time of year, so why would stores be slashing their prices by any discernible amount?

People fall for it though.  Every damn year they fall for it.  So I am going to advise you how to not fall for the awful gimmicks that make you think you're getting a great deal (really Saks, 10% off? Why even bother?) and actually get a great deal.  Here are my shopping tips:

  1. Go to eBay and set up some saved searches.  Now.  If used clothes bother you, select the option that ensures you are only viewing "New with Tags" clothing.  If something has more than one day left on it, just watch it and do not bid.  Bidding now does nothing but ensure the price goes up and if you are bidding to guarantee you win it actually kind of does the opposite; say you put in a bid much higher than the current minimum bid price, like $50 on a $4.65 item.  That means that if someone else willing to pay as much as you starts bidding, the price gets jacked up to $50 very quickly, whereas if you hadn't bid yet, that person would likely put in some other lower bid and keep the price down.  Then, everyone else who comes after them is bidding up a much lower price rather than adding on to your $50 max bid.  The thing that ensures this is that eBay asks you to put in the maximum you are willing to pay when you bid but most people underestimate what they would have to pay, so even though someone would pay up to $50 they are more likely to put in a much lower amount hoping they are on their way to a great deal.  Bid at the last second and steal that dream from them.
    1. Go to a department store and try some stuff on.  Get a feeling for your size in various different brands that you intend on searching for so you aren't going in blind.  I always needed to try things on but now that I have a good feeling for my size in the brands I buy from the most, I can pretty much tell if something will fit me from its listed size and appearance.  Additionally, measure yourself and clothes you own that fit you.  Lots of sellers list measurements of their items and if these match up to clothes you already have that you know look good and fit well, then you can be pretty sure that an item will fit, and fit well.
    2. Go to gixen.com and start sniping.  Gixen uses the item numbers from the eBay listings and puts in your bid in the last 3-4 seconds of the auction, giving someone who is just putting in minimum bids each time almost no shot of outbidding you before you've won.  It also keeps you from engaging in bidding wars, where the idea of having something and winning clouds your judgment and you end up paying way more than you had planned on just because you got caught up in the moment.
    3. Find some good damn sellers and start checking their newly listed stock frequently.  Lots of sellers somehow procure overstock/returns from department stores and sell you these brand new items at massive discounts.  BHFO is a great seller to start with, and items I've gotten from them have had Bloomingdales return stickers and Nordstrom markings.  Everything has been brand new with all tags attached, and prices start at $0.99 so there are definitely some opportunities for good deals to be had.  Find more like this!
  2. Go to a department store outlet in person.  Nordstrom Rack, Neiman's Last Call, Bloomingdales The Outlet, Saks off Fifth, any of em.  Don't go to brand specific outlets like J. Crew or Ann Taylor or Banana Republic because they are selling you outlet specific clothing.  The designs may be similar but the materials are not, and 50% off a significantly overpriced blouse made of inferior materials is not anything to write home about.  The department store outlets sell real stock from their stores, and the only one I have noticed with outlet specific stuff is Saks, who now has tons of its own house brands to sell.  If you dig, you can find some really good stuff.  The outlets I go to are in a bit of a bad area and have no other nice stores in the whole outlet mall, which is great because it means there's less competition for the good stuff.
  3. Go to TJ Maxx.  Find one with a Runway near you, because that's the section that has all the higher end stuff.  Tags will be purple.  Runway items can be returned to any TJ Maxx so if you see some random purple tags in your local non-Runway TJ's, be sure to check them out.  They will probably be good quality and are more likely to be on clearance since they start at higher prices most people are unwilling to pay.
Just please, please, don't pay full price for things and don't fall for these marketing gimmicks designed to get you in stores and paying vastly inflated prices.  Why would you pay full price if you don't have to?  And why would you buy clothes from Forever 21 when you could get good quality alternatives on sale for similar prices?  Last night I bought a (new) Theory sweater for $32.00 from eBay, tags originally said $215, and H&M or F21 sweaters aren't much cheaper but will definitely fall apart sooner.  Just try it out, I promise you'll like it.  Note that I did not give away many eBay sellers' names - I can't give away all my secrets, but if you look around you might find some good ones to hang onto for yourself.