Winter Staples


Since the man of the house, wait, that's the dog... I meant the literal 'man' of the house, is working long hours this winter, I've taken to snuggling by the fire and treating myself to some very feminine indulgences. The mood board above is a collage some of the things that have been keeping me company through the somewhat cold and rainy season.

1. In Fiore Veloutée Balm for Lips and Eyes ($58) (also available here)
I discovered 'In Fiore' skincare products a few years ago and have been hooked on their Veloutée balm ever since. I tend to get eczema on my eyelids during the winter, so this balm doubles as a lip and eye moisturizer. In Fiore skincare is ethically made in San Francisco with natural and organic ingredients. I am also quite taken in by how beautiful their packagings are - the Veloutée balm comes in an elegant, antique gold compact (complete with a mirror). Whipping it out while sipping on a glass of French 75 reminds me too much of Gloria Swanson (I was going to write Mary Pickford, but I decided I'm more of sinister grouch than a sweetheart).

2. Swans Island Merino Wool Throw ($295)
I bought this Made in Maine throw last year for my drafty study and it's kept me toasty all through winter and even the early days of summer since it's technically a summer-weight throw. The dog loves the smell of the wool and he steals it from me ever so often. During specials, J.Crew offers a nice discount on these throws, so wait till then and pick one up (ETA - 12/6/12: Use GIFTNOW for 30% off). I like them better than the Brahms Mount linen blankets because they're softer and much warmer.

3. 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens' ($7)
Along with watching 'Home Alone' and 'It's a Wonderful Life', reading 'A Christmas Carol' whilst snuggled with spiked apple cider by the fire is one of my favorite things to do during the Christmas week.

4. La Maison Du Chocolat Truffles ($77)
If you have no self-control, I would strongly recommend against purchasing these. Saks puts these delicious French-made chocolates on discount every two weeks or so. 42 pieces should (can it really?) last about three weeks - although I usually end up consuming them in front of 'Boardwalk Empire' episodes in a week and then moan about how my clothes no longer fit.

5. Timothy Han Candle in Tobacco and Jasmine ($65 - sold out)
I've read so much about London-based Timothy Han's range of apothecary goods and have wanted to try out a few of his products for some time. I've long given up on Diptyque candles (no-no to paraffin wax),  the Le Labo Santal was starting to get boring and I wanted something a little more luxurious than my beeswax candles. When Barneys recently marked down Timothy Han's scented candles, I picked up one in Tobacco and Jasmine. It's an excellently grown-up scent that seems to juxtapose fresh and old, it reminds me of fresh flowers and mulled wine in an old Victorian study, filled with history and books and the brief waft of snow outside and a man smoking a pipe. It's strange how smells can stir the imagination.

6 & 7. Merino Wool Scarf by With & Wessel ($120) & Steven Alan Cashmere Beanie ($98)
Perfect for dog walking in the blistering cold and when you're just standing there hoping he'll do his business ultra quick so you can go back in and enjoy a cup of tea. The merino scarf is super soft, not too expensive and in my opinion, works better than cashmere for running errands or hiking in the cold. I would suggest waiting for Steven Alan's January/February sample sales to pick up the beanie.

8. Noda Horo Potoru Teapot ($125)
I love this little pot/kettle that can go from the stove to the table. I drink lots of tea and this enameled pot is particularly useful for 'genmaicha' or roasted barley tea ('mugicha') since I just make huge pots of it all through the day and every time the tea gets cold, I can reheat it gently over low heat on the stove.

9. Johnstons of Elgin Cashmere House Socks ($33)
My feet are constantly cold and clammy so I wear these for lounging around the house and to sleep . It also works great for air travel. These socks are not robust enough to handle being worn with shoes or strenuous activity but they keep my toes from falling off in the winter, are breathable and work tremendously well at putting me to sleep with all sorts of warm and fuzzy dreams.

I know that these items are a little expensive, but a lot of them have lasted me for a few years e.g. the Swans Island blanket, cashmere socks etc., and they have given me so much comforting joy that I feel splurging on them every once in a while is good for my mental health. What are your winter staples and do you have any recommendations for me to try out?

End of the year wardrobe assessment

Sweaters, from top: Old J.Crew, Acne, Hope, Rachel Comey, Saturdays Surf NYC

Back in March I posted about streamlining my belongings and it appears that this is still a work in progress. I've been working hard over the last few months at reassessing how my wardrobe fits with my current body and lifestyle. Apart from the realization that I can no longer squeeze into skinny jeans and that my shirts have started gaping at the bust, working from home has further made me conclude that I really do not need that many shirts or parkas or shoes.

A longtime reader recently commented that she didn't understand how I could say I was somewhat broke and yet manage to purchase as many items as I have recently. I addressed my finances about a year ago and since then, my circumstances have changed slightly (although not as dire as I sometimes make it sound) - I am now not funded and struggling to finish my dissertation by the next year. I also received a lot things (out of pity and love, I guess) for my birthday and anniversary, and from the wedding. However, I really do have to apologize for being extremely insensitive and sounding like an entitled brat in my last post. Sometimes, I think a sheltered life has led me to being overtly melodramatic.

In light of that, I thought it would be somewhat interesting to readers to go through a couple of things that have helped in covering the expenses of my recent purchases. I have been utilizing Ebay, my own blog shop, and consignment/used clothing stores like crazy. June and July of this year were somewhat bleak months for me, and in times of distress, I tend to clean and organize. It's strange how much a person can accumulate over the years even if you try to be somewhat conscientious about your purchases.

While re-selling things doesn't usually help with recouping losses, I make sure that I the items I sell are able to cover at least 50% of the cost of a new item. Instead of the one in-one out method, I try to get rid of many things in a particular clothing category before I add something new. For example, to purchase my Hope Guys' Shoes, I sold the Heschung for CdG oxfords, a pair of J.Crew boots and my No. 6 clog boots. This ensures that I have a longer time to think things over and helps to clear out the closet even more. I also dug through things in storage and thought long and hard about the many items I have that no longer fit with my current lifestyle or aesthetic. I'm not a very sentimental person, so being able to part with several very expensive items from ages ago was pretty easy, and that helped cover things like a new tote bag and several shirts.

Once I make a purchase, I wear the heck out of the item. Some people suggest that if you haven't worn the item in a year, you should get rid of it. I personally think that if you haven't worn an item in six months, it probably isn't worth your time or money, unless of course, it's special occasion wear like cocktail dresses and bunny suits (:P). I wear my sweaters all through fall and winter and even spring sometimes. I use summer clothing e.g shirts as layers underneath so that every item in my wardrobe (bar shorts) usually gets a full rotation all year round. I mean, if you don't use it, why own it?

I think that trying to achieve the ultimate "perfect" wardrobe is forever going to be a lost cause for me. My lifestyle and body will always change; a proper job, kids, too much chocolates, etc. are a few things that will keep my wardrobe evolving. Being able to consistently avoid the tragedy of an overstuffed closet with nothing I love in it is perhaps the best thing I can aim for when it comes to matters of the sartorial kind.

Another year


I celebrated my 30th birthday a few days ago. There's nothing quite as sobering as waking up one morning to find that a third of your life is gone and you're still not quite done with school, somewhat broke and getting rather chunky around the middle and bottom parts. While people who surround me have been extremely nice and supportive about it, I'm surprised that they haven't yet run away screaming due to my incessant whining and moping - I am working hard at undoing thirty odd years of cynicism.

The festivities for the birthday started a week before hand - Brian and I took a weekend trip to Vancouver to celebrate my arrested metabolism and his new job. I took no pictures of the event because it was too cold to hold a camera and I was too busy stuffing my face full of mussels at Chambar and having overpriced cocktails at the Bacchus lounge. I spent the rest of the week and my birthday sitting around the house, bottle of prosecco in hand and irritating the dog with baby talk. I also ate exactly three cupcakes in a 21 hour span, and watched Home Alone (how apt!) while the husband was off at some bigwig conference, leaving me at home to feel sorry for myself. A few days later, some friends took me out to watch 'Skyfall'. I avoided the heavy drinking/dancing/lavish dinner pitfall this year and made my transition into (genuine) adulthood.

So that's that. I received some really great and thoughtful gifts (all of which were much needed and pined after) - a hand-knitted scarf based on a BrooklynTweed pattern, a CdG wallet, some earrings from Mociun, the Blanca Monros Gomez seed ring, a beautifully illustrated special edition of Charles Dickens' 'Our Mutual Friend' and I bought myself a new camera lens. Speaking of which, Mociun's jewelry are so elegant and well-made, I understand now why she charges so much for them! And in the spirit of giving thanks, I just want to state for the record that I think know I have it pretty darn good considering the millions of terrible things happening in the world today, some of which are taking place right now where Hurricane Sandy hit. Please pardon my incessant whining and moping and please don't run away screaming.

In other news, I registered for a domain name (yay!) so please update your bookmarks to http://www.assembledhazardly.com. I also gave in to the call of networking heavily filtered camera phone pictures; if you're interested in a gazillion pictures of my dog, you can find them on Instagram.

Heritage Americana




I'm not usually one for following trends, and I must confess that while I run a "style" blog, I don't subscribe to or even read any style magazines. My exposure to the trends are usually based on what limited interactions I have with the downtown Seattle hipsters, and for everything else, I subscribe to recommendations from a handful of my favorite stores.

This latest heritage/Americana fad however, is something that I'm very keen on and have been working hard at trying to incorporate a little bit of it into my ever-evolving wardrobe. I have been eyeing the Chimala chambray work shirt for a long time now, after seeing it at Lark a few years back. Now, before you judge me about paying that much for a pre-destroyed, pretentiously distressed chambray shirt, let me state for the record that I have been testing out a few chambray shirts before settling on the Chimala one. I don't know what it is, but this shirt just feels really good on. Maybe I'm over thinking this, but it makes me want to chop some wood, curl up with my hunting gun and put a mallard over the spit ... kidding. Chambray shirts used to make me think of Ina Garten and the 80s, cowboys and riveters, but after seeing how the Chimala shirt is worn on Vipada Wongpatanasin in the Mill Mercantile lookbook, I felt that I really wanted needed the shirt, vapid consumerism be damned. Maybe this post is all about justifying my purchase, but I have a hunch that I'm going to get a lot of mileage out of the shirt in the coming years.

Also, in the whole heritage vein, I've recently splurged on some items that tie in with what I've been moaning about over the course of this blog. I spent an inordinate amount of time (the equivalent of slothful procrastination) seeking out smaller, independent labels only to discover that they all converge at smaller, independent men's store. It leaves one to beg the question, why is it that well-made goods always seem to be targeted at men, while women are left to pick up scraps at H&M? Maybe it's because men hate shopping so much that when they do buy something, they want it to last a lifetime. I know that my husband has been picking out the same shoes in the same style for years and getting him to shop for new ones (or god forbid, try out a new brand) is tantamount to being disemboweled. And the reason he keeps going back to the same brand over and over again? He can wear them every single day for 365 days without worrying if it's going to hurt his feet or rip apart or develop holes in the sole as I've known some overpriced women's shoes to do.

When I picked out the Waste(Twice) tote (pictured above), I based in on some recommendations and research off a men's style forum. I wasn't expecting too much out of it, except that the labor practices were really appealing - small batch totes made in Japan that had sort of an utilitarian, heritage vibe to it. When the bag arrived from Hickoree's, it was quite a pleasant surprise. It was sturdy, very thoughtfully made (i.e. no loose stitches, discoloration, pockets everywhere, etc.) and it would prove to be a really handy tote to have in rainy weather, as opposed to the floppy canvas ones I've been lugging around all summer. By the way, I sold off most of my shoes (see this post) and used the money to buy a pair of Hope brogues. I've always had good luck with Hope as a brand overall, and those brogues are undoubtedly the most comfortable oxfords I've ever worn.

I'm really glad that there is somewhat of a revival to traditional, functional dressing - I know for a fact that women are also starting to demand that sort of manufacturing and styles that were once only limited to men's garments (hence stores like Mill Mercantile springing up). The problem still, I think, is that a lot of women see heritage goods as a "trend" and don't really care about the manufacturing practices or the history behind the company. When you start to think more about how your clothes are made, where it comes from, what it used to represent and how it fits in with your lifestyle, you develop an appreciation for the garments you own. And I think for anyone looking to discover their personal style, or to be a more conscientious consumer, that's a good place to start.

Outfitting for Fall V.2012: Reduce and reuse



Hope boxy tee in wine; J.Crew wool trousers; Church's Sally loafers

Yikes. I don't know if time seems to be going by quicker because I'm older or if I'm older because time is flying by, but even if earthquakes and climate change have made the Earth rotate faster, I feel simultaneously worn out and bored all the time. It wasn't too long ago that I blogged about gearing up for Fall when here we are again -- albeit this time, it feels much too warm to be dressed in sweaters and a waxed jacket in September. My purchases for this season and the next will be highly pared down, for reasons explained in great detail over the last few posts (and I won't get into them again). The funny thing is that I've found myself pretty much set up for the colder weather with hardly worn purchases from last year, which I guess is testament to the fact that I probably overspend on clothing.

I work mostly from home these days in a pseudo-hermetic state, trying to write up my dissertation papers whilst clad in jammy pants, moisture-wicking t-shirts and fuzzy socks. It's gotten so bad that I sometimes feel terribly apologetic when the mailman comes around with a package for me to sign and I look like some post-apocalyptic madwoman. Either way, being at home so often has had some ill-effect on me - I'm getting less exercise AND getting so complacent such that I'm putting more emphasis on comfort and convenience when I do eventually have to go out. I'm not at the point of sweatpants and Minnetonka slip-ons... yet. And not that I would ever allow (or forgive) myself to roll out of the house looking like a wad of disastrous bedding, but I'm starting to think that maybe baggy wool pants and some fleece pullovers isn't necessarily a bad thing or a completely inappropriate attire for the Pacific Northwest. I mean, most of the people I know bike to school, wear trail shoes/clogs and neon raincoats, and by default, every single one of them lists their favorite activity as hiking.

My outfit for work these days has been a pair of extra slouchy pants and a boxy t-shirt. I rotate through a lot of Hope tops and a few other breton tees, and I have several pairs of J.Crew wool Elan trousers that I stockpiled from last year. Suiting is one of the few things J.Crew gets right. Also, mostly because I'm lazy and detest ironing, lately I find myself reaching for shirts a lot less. The tee and trousers combination makes me little bit more workplace appropriate - not overdressed but not sloppy either. It's extremely comfortable, and I think that when it gets into chillier weather, I'll just throw on a scarf and fleece jacket and call it a day.

I don't particularly have a wishlist/purchase list anymore because let's face it - I don't do a very good job sticking to it (and the list seems to multiply every time I surf the internet), but I've added a pair of black Church's loafers to the shoe closet, after receiving a Net-a-Porter gift card for the wedding. I'm dithering about buying a Primoeza sweater over at Anaise but other than that I'll see if I can reduce and reuse and hopefully save enough to make a trip to Barcelona next year (or for retirement, dogs etc., etc.). I'd be interested to read how everyone else's wardrobe preparation/purchases are coming along!

P/S: Man, I really need to get back into swing of blogging because I've realized that I'm incoherently stringing wordstogether that run off in long winding sentences and don't have any structure. Like this. For example, this is the third iteration of this post. Apologies for nonsensical grammar, hopefully I haven't gotten any spelling wrong. I did win a spelling bee competition when I was nine, after all. 

Parklife...







Blur  via billboard.com; all other photos by assembledhazardly

Things this week: Cuddling with a broken weiner dog (recent drama involves losing a tooth and eating dark chocolate - I feel like the worst parent ever), closet cleaning, greasy spoon breakfasts, multiple tea times (breakfast, second breakfast, etc.), winter-ish plants, and sorting through post-wedding crap. I'm finding that I constantly tired so I think it's an indication that I really need to stop snacking, get off my fat arse and get some exercise. I get up when I want to except on Wednesdays when I get rudely awakened by the dustmen (seriously...).

I've also noticed that I've averaged one post per month since February! I'm surprised that I'm actually still accumulating any readers/followers at all. I have a whole bunch of blog drafts sitting around and I really need to get around to posting them - a lot of them are peripherally related to my random observations about shopping habits and what-nots which I guess is the main focus of this blog, no? 

Anyway, I know that I've been posting more random life updates than is necessary but I just really needed an excuse to throw in a very nice picture of Blur from just a few months ago. They were the first band that I ever saw live over a decade ago, and fifteen years on, their music is still heavily rotated on my playlists. Also, as an aside, we all know we secretly want to dress like Graham Coxon (breton top, duffle coat, horn-rim glasses, mysteriously emo sleazy look... how apt!)

In the meantime, have a pleasant week! xx

Scenes from a marriage







Let me preface this post by saying that I was never one of those girls that spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about marriage and planning a wedding. In fact, when we first got engaged, the idea was to get married in the local courthouse and have a tiny ceremony/honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. My opinion on marriage it's that it's something more of a legal formality than a rite of passage. I guess the title of my post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek; if you've seen the Ingmar Bergman classic, you'll understand why. 

The reason we had a wedding reception/ceremony at all was due to familial expectations and the fact that it would be a good opportunity to spend some time with friends living out of state (and country) that we would never otherwise see. I wanted to keep the wedding small and easy and planned it almost grudgingly, considering the state of affairs - not that we were in dire financial straits but the events over the last couple of months have taught me more than ever about the benefits of keeping a healthy savings account.

We decided that a huge chunk of our expenses would be spent on good food, good alcohol and a lovely venue (the wedding was at a lavender farm). Otherwise, everything would be done on the cheap - I did my own makeup, solicited help from a handful of friends and found a decent photographer off Craigslist. We also did most of our own venue setup and decorations along with making our own wedding paraphernalia. My dress, which was heavily discounted at J.Crew, cost about $200 including alterations (cheaper than a pair of A.P.C. shoes, oh dear!). The two items I did splurge on were (a) a bagpiper and (b) an inordinately expensive pair of shoes. The justifications being (a) the bagpiper represented a sliver of being in Scotland and (b) the shoes are completely reusable!  

Looking back, I think it was a little silly of me to have conveyed such animosity towards having a wedding ceremony at all. In the process of freaking out and being stressed, I forgot how important my friends and family are to me. I still think it would have been wiser to have used the money spent on a downpayment for a house - but when all is said and done, at least I have some pretty pictures to look back on and a spiffy pair of shoes to clomp around in at the next dinner party I'll be attending.

In sickness and in health...


This happened over the weekend.

I'll be back with more updates but I just wanted to thank everyone who left such lovely words of encouragement in the previous post. I've been overwhelmed by how supportive most people have been. Let's just say that things seem to be looking on the up and it doesn't involve Taco Bell in the slightest. :-)

An update of sorts

I recently received an email from a reader (Hi, Allison!) asking if I will be updating this blog soon or if it's a lost cause. I realized I've been gone for two months and while I don't think most people care one way or another, I thought that it would be better if I just replied in an open letter to everyone who frequents this blog.

The last half a year have been a whirlwind of sorts for me. My dog had back surgery which depleted a lot of our savings, we are planning a small wedding ceremony upon the request of friends and family (why we agreed to it I would never know - I'm giving up a honeymoon in Scotland!) and in the latest bout of really tragic news, my PhD program has come to a grinding halt because I felt that I was going nowhere with it, I loathed the topic I was working on so much that I procrastinated to the point of being unproductive when it came to publications. I was stressed and scared and unmotivated and had absolutely no clue what I was doing.

Anyway, not to get into the nitty gritty details, now that I don't know where my next source of funding will come from, I'm trying to spend as little as possible (omg, no more imported cheeses!) which I guess explains why I have had no new posts of late or am even motivated to write about anything. I'm physically and mentally spent, depressed and broke. I have many things to be thankful for - a supportive partner, a loving dog (he will lick your sadness away) and a great family. I'm the kind of person who wallows in self-pity and am pretty obsessive and obstinate, so it's easy for me to get fixated on the negative things and kick myself in the head about it. Sometimes I think about burning all my engineering/science books and running off to join a rock band or work as a cook.

I looked at my closet just last night and thought about all the things I had accumulated over the years and the one thing I think I can safely say is that - it pays to build a good wardrobe. I can just envision that for the next three years while I'm still depressed and broke and chopping vegetables at Taco Bell, I'll still be doing it in my Steven Alan shirts.

In the end, I will say please stick around for a few more months and I'll be sure to sporadically post about my latest adventures in digging myself out of this abyss. I apologize if I have turned this blog into pages from 'The Bell Jar' but thank you for sticking around.

Random items on a Tuesday

One of my favorite frivolous magazine purchases is an E-mook from Nîmes, a Japanese clothing label.  I found the magazine at Kinokuniya a few years ago and have been purchasing them whenever they go in stock, which is about twice a year and relatively hard to find. I had to wait about 3 months before the latest Autumn/Winter 2011 catalog came.

There's a kind of innocent, sweet charm about the way the clothing are photographed and styled in the catalog. It reminds me of Toast but in a more childlike way - which, not to be creepy, is right up my alley. I love the simplicity and timeless designs and the fact that everything looks so effortlessly put together. I can't attest to the quality of their clothing because it's only available in Japan and I haven't found a way to order them for international buyers. People talk a lot about the French way of dressing, but I think the Japanese have a calm sense of wabi-sabi that translates to the way they behave and dress. A lot of people associate Japanese fashion with some horrifying scene from Harajuku on the weekend, but the best of them have an uncanny appreciation for heritage, well-made goods.







Sorry for the crappy scanning, our all-in-one is about 7 years old and has been stomped on multiple times by the dog (he uses it as a perch to bark from the window at feline intruders). My lack of scanning skills is also due to the fact that  I've also been feeling under the weather over the last few days. I've been getting through by drinking lots of green tea with ginger, lemon and honey, and getting kisses/snorfles from the dog.! Hope your week has been off to a good start so far!

Edit: Look what came in the mail today -- my new rucksack from Ally Cappelino!

Out with the old...

(source: bellefleurdelis)

I've been trying to streamline my life a little bit over the last month or so. There's been a couple of really difficult life events going on recently which has made me reassess my spending habits and my penchant for accumulating really silly things like teacups, flatware and shoes. I mean in the whole scheme of things, I'm still extremely lucky, but there are times when I feel like I need to stop reading blogs and/or blogging for a while just to have a reality check every now and then. I think it's very easy to be swayed by how flawless some people's lives seem to be. In between perfectly framed photographs of knitting and thrift store finds, apple crumbles, Parisian holidays and pretty babies, I sometimes wonder if it's just wrong to mislead readers that life is filled with nothing but good things (or for readers to be misled in their own right). I guess for some people, reading blogs is a means of escape - like watching the telly or reading a book. Who wants to constantly read sorrowful litanies by some cynical, overworked person (e.g. this blog)?

Inspired by Yumiko Sekine's Designsponge sneak peek, I've moved about 1/2 of my frivolous belongings into boxes and in the next few weeks, I'll be calling Salvation Army to pick it up from my doorstep, so if anyone wants a bunch of Crate and Barrel cappucino cups (brand new!), let me know. I think I'm going through some sort of radically mad change where I feel like I need to throw everything out and live like a hermit. I'm also getting rid of perfectly new and good items that for some reason I find to be galling now. I suspect that I was possessed at that point by the demons known as "Instant Gratification" and "Cheap Prices" but truly, I sometimes think that just blindly and blankly forking over money has been my greatest foe.

The good news is that I think I'm finally able to move closer and closer to all the Byzantine doctrine that I've been very hypocritically espousing since last year (omg, she's still on about this?!). I still have an immense amount of clutter to get rid of, and living with someone who has sentimental attachment to everything makes it harder for me to arrive at that spartan aesthetic I'm craving - although I suspect there's nothing some gentle coaxing and a large bacon sandwich can't fix.

A couple of things I'm trying to incorporate into my spring cleaning checklist:

1. Bring only what you love into your house.
2. Have a story and a reason behind everything you own.
3. If you don't use it, get rid of it. Someone else would always need it.

Those three philosophical ideas may seem generalized and unhelpful, but personally, it helps me let go of things and to consider carefully why and what I buy. There are many things I own that I like well enough but don't exactly love; many items were bought as "substitutes" for the real thing - cheaper shirts, cheaper glassware, cheaper dishes etc. Those things are mostly the ones that I've ended up loathing because deep down, there really is no substitute for the real thing.

Do you have any personal tips on getting rid of clutter and spring cleaning?

Transitional wear


Clockwise from top: Primoeza sweater & Madewell shirt, Makr Farm Rucksack, Earnest Sewn jeans & Frye oxfords

I've been embracing my feminine side lately (see this post). I think it has do with the fact that I'm growing out my hair for the wedding in June - after which you can be rest assured that I'll promptly head over to the salon and get a good 3 inches lopped off. I don't like tying my hair or fussing with it, so I'm going to be sticking with an approximately chin length bob. In any case, now that global warming is in full swing and the end of winter already feels like mid-spring, I've been wearing more lightweight shirts and using canvas bags (e.g. the Makr Farm rucksack) instead of hipster-ish waterproof ones.

There are some things that I've been wearing/using so much that if you did a proper cost-benefit analysis, I would be coming out way on top. Case in point, I've had those Frye oxfords pictured above since 2007 which I bought for $160. I've worn them about 957 times (I think), got them resoled twice and they are still as comfy and trusty as ever. Frye do make their shoes in Mexico though, so I'm not really sure how ethical or sustainable their production standards are, but I'm assuming that if most people get as much out of their shoes as I do, then there's something Frye is doing right.

Which brings me to another point that I've been musing about for the past few months about quality goods, heritage goods and ethical goods. I've been trying to buy more locally made products in hopes that they would offer me some sort of minor consolation about my consumption habits. I'm actually pretty happy to report that most of the locally made/small batch brands that I've experienced  (Makr, Earnest Sewn, Primoeza etc.) have lived up to my expectations. I recently bought another J.W. Hulme bag which has turned me into a such a convert that I'm not even sure I want the highly coveted Sofia Coppola bag anymore. I'm a brand loyalist, so once I find something I like that is in line with my beliefs and fits me well, I tend to stick with them even if it costs an arm and a leg (and in most cases, a month's rent). By the way, I also want to add that J.W. Hulme has the most incredible customer service, I can't speak highly enough of them.

Every once in a while though, I find myself falling for things I shouldn't (like the floral Madewell shirt above). I still can't bring myself forward sometimes to fork out three times the amount for something similar that is more in line with what I've been trying to achieve. I know that in the long run, I would probably be more contented with paying a higher cost upfront, but honestly, who doesn't like some instant gratification?

P.S.: A lot of people found this blog through this post. Jill Wenger recently took some time to respond and I wanted to give everyone a head's up and leave it at that. I'm not one for offensive confrontation unless I'm drunk and the person I'm offending is either a policeman or a night-call ER surgeon. Have a good week everyone!

On the matter of declining quality


A dress that I ordered before Christmas arrived from J.Crew yesterday, after being backordered for over three weeks. I have been looking for a nice, somewhat dressy wool dress in grey and black. I wanted one that was a multitasker, something that I could use for dinners and interviews. Unfortunately, I had to return the dress just after putting it on for 10 minutes. While the design was flawless and the cut was flattering, the material made me feel like I had been tossed in in a forest of bramble and poison ivy. It was so itchy I wondered how anyone who actually designed the dress could think it was worth $198 and expect people to buy it without breaking out into hives.

This particular episode with J.Crew and my overall experience with plenty of "trusted" brands over the past few years have left me a quite bitter. A lot of brands that I once deemed to be of high quality and trustworthy has consistently shocked me with items that seem to be produced on parallel with Forever 21. While I may be more neurotic and picky about my clothing than the average person, I don't think it's just an overblown, sequestered conclusion on my part that the quality of a lot of clothing has deteriorated over the last 20 years. I used to buy basic t-shirts from Banana Republic because they were made of dense woven cotton but over the last few years, I haven't found a single piece that didn't shrink in the wash or wasn't see-through.

Most retailers, from the lowest end of the spectrum to the highest end are guilty of producing clothes that are shockingly bad. It's an unfortunate combination of companies looking for a quick (and oversized) profit and the onset of the fast fashion business model that has given rise to clothing that just aren't cut out to withstand more than 6 months of wear. At the lower end of the spectrum (think trendy labels), cutting costs to push clothing prices down is the key objective. It's virtually impossible to expect a cotton t-shirt today that you buy at Target for $6.99 to last as long as something that you bought for $6.99 twenty years ago. A quick punch of numbers into an inflation calculator will tell you that if you paid $6.99 in 1985, that very same item today should cost you $13.98. And yet, as consumers, we expect clothes to remain as cheap as possible and suppliers and retailers keep feeding into this crazed perception that it's possible to produce clothing at such a low price point. Well, it is possible I guess, except that something has got to give - be it at the expense of the environment, sweatshop labor, horrendous fabric and material or a combination of all the above.

The mid-range and higher-end labels are no less guilty of this trend. The problem with maximizing profits and moving manufacturing to labor camps is that it dilutes craftmanship. While machines have allowed garments to be manufactured on massive scales, low-paid workers are similarly tasked with mundane and repetitive tasks that require little to no skill. Materials are also now obtained from globally diverse sources and quality control varies within each country of manufacture. Lucy Siegle's excellent and well-researched book expands more on the dynamics of why quality of clothing has declined rapidly and I strongly recommend picking the book up even if you're not concerned about the environmental or ethical aspect of bad quality clothing. There's also a rather interesting individual economic angle to it all. Nothing annoys and riles me up more than having spent quite a few dollars only to find that the purported "luxury" item I bought won't last for more than a year (Proenza Schouler SHAME on you!).

I received a hand-me down Pringle of Scotland cardigan about 15 years ago from a well-travelled aunt. She bought it way back in the 1970s when cashmere sweaters were still Scottish-made. The sweater lasted me quite a few years before it developed an unsalvageable hole. So when I visited the UK for the first time in 1998, I was determined to find an identical sweater. I couldn't afford anything from Pringle of Scotland at that point, and instead, settled for a William Lockie lambswool sweater (£65) that I found at a family-owned Scottish purveyor in Oxford which has lasted till this day. Whenever I think about picking up a new sweater now, I hold the its quality against those two very sentimental pieces and I can safely attest that nothing below the $300 mark has ever measured up.

In 1999, The New Yorker ran an excellent article on the decline of cashmere. I think it holds true then as it does now, but on an even larger scale, traversing all materials and all garment trades. The writer wrote, "... the democratization of the [cashmere] industry means only what the democratization of any controlled system always means - that the responsibility for making choices falls to the people, which is to say the consumers."

Taking a moment to bake some bread




I recently began to learn how to bake bread as a way of coming full circle with my grad school procrastination. I know I'm running a style blog, but hey, before actually blogging about clothing, I blogged about food. The husband and I plough through bread like crazy people - he needs his sandwich fix like I need my noodle fix (Asians! :-)). I guess I'm pretty snobbish (and probably dislikable) in the sense that I refuse to eat bread that doesn't measure up to some sort of genuine European standard. If I'm going to load up on carbs, it should be either in the form of alcohol or something REALLY good.

I'm probably jumping on the bandwagon pretty late here, but if you haven't tried it before, no knead bread has made it so much easier to have 'artisan' type breads at home without having to grope the dough until arthritis develops. I've always been a little skeptical about fast track methods, but after experimenting quite a few times with no-knead bread recipes, I'm a convert. I use Jim Lahey's method with some personal modifications, including 21 -24 hours of fermentation, folding the dough twice, preheating and baking for 30 minutes at 500F and then at 450F uncovered for the rest of the time (I I found Jim Lahey's scorched and burnt exterior less aesthetically pleasing and too hard). The bread that comes out from the recipe is chewy and soft on the inside with a crunchy crust, perfect for a bowl of Italian beef stew by the fireplace on a cold night.

P.S.: Maybe baking bread goes against my weight-loss program as mentioned in the last post. Yikes.

A January Storm


Hello, I hope your new year has been off to a great start so far. I can't believe I've waited until a severe snow storm to return to blogging. As I'm snuggled on the sofa with a sweater and a cup of tea, I'm sorry to report that I have been feeling a little 'blah' lately when it comes to blogging about fashion and style and the challenges that go with it. There's really only so much I can say about it without starting to sound like a broken record. I'm also suffering from exhaustion with 12 hour work days and a dissertation that still seems to be stuck in first gear. Over the weekend, the dog suffered a back injury that has left me sleepless and thinking about long term care management (we're so yuppie, we're thinking acupuncture and underwater treadmill!).

Funnily enough, it's in moments where I'm too busy to think about online shopping or style or blogging is when I re-discover what it means to be go back to the basics and to remember why I have my uniform. I've been practically living in button downs and woolen sweaters and wearing my APC boots to shreds. Sometimes even, when I'm really lazy and really cold, I put on a pair of sneakers and a silly hat. It's easy, it's fast and so simple that I can waltz from the closet to the bus stop in 10 minutes flat. I try not to fall into the "I'm too comfortable to dress up" mode, but more often than not, simplicity is really the best solution.

I've found that I'm pretty bad at  keeping resolutions, so I haven't really made any this year, other than 'resolving' (if that even means anything) to work harder and faster so I am done with graduate school and all the tiresome slave driving that comes with it. We really need to get a house with a yard and less staircases since our pup is now going to have to be carried whenever he slinks up and down. I've also resolved to work off the holiday (and let's face it, waaay pre-holiday) weight since I'm constantly feeling disgusting and disgruntled. I guess that explains partially why I haven't felt like posting outfit pictures or talking about clothes.

Being tired when I come back from work has also made me realize that the less things I have in the house, the easier it is to keep things neat and clean. There's just less things to deal with. I guess maybe my knack for accumulating things can be attributed to boredom and too much free time procrastination. I wonder if it's true for most people (and I think it is).