Sunday, November 13, 2011

Going Commando (With No Muffin Top)


Among my greatest fears: becoming infected with flesh-eating bacteria, being stranded in the shark-infested open sea, having a muffin top.

And let's face it, that last one is by far more likely to happen to most of us (size zero scuba divers notwithstanding). Material Girl is a little soft in the middle, but I know the appropriate size and rise of jean to wear and I skip certain articles of clothing on non-skinny days, thus generally avoiding the dreaded and unattractive waistband spill-over.

But, even after slimming down a few years ago, I'd never found a brand of tights that was not muffin-top inducing. (They all lived up to their name.) I love the look of tights and I like to wear skirts and dresses in cooler weather when bare legs are inappropriate, so I kept trying. I'd find a new brand, put them on in the morning, and head to the ladies room 10 minutes after arriving at work to de-tights. They were uncomfortable and made me feel both self-conscious and a little a nauseated. I tried buying larger sizes, but they were baggy in the legs and still too tight at the waist. I even tried snipping waistbands, but then I'd just have to tug at my tights all day as they slipped down.

Then I discovered Commando tights. They have a high, non-rolling waistband that actually looks like it's meant to go on a full-grown woman's body when you pull it out of the package. They are comfy and create a smooth line even under clingy dresses. The last few years I could only find them in black and brown (both footless and footed), so I was very exited to get a box of colored and patterned tights from ShopBop recently. Last week I wore a ribbed red pair with Foley + Corrina black velvet shorts purchased from a MYHABIT event, black Frye harness boots, and a favorite gray glen plaid jacket I got from the Gap a million years ago when they still made good stuff--it was very Angus Young meets Rachel Bilson.

If you are a tights fan, give Commando a try. You can find an array of colored opaque tights (red, purple, army green and more) plus sheerer styles including fishnet, polka dot and lace. They will transform your fall and winter wardrobe and you'll be doing your part to help us achieve a muffin-top free world. (Find varying Commando tights styles at ShopBop, HerRoom and Bare Necessities.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

For Your Fashion Library: 100 Unforgettable Dresses

SJP as Carrie Bradshaw in a billowing gown spread across the bed in her Paris hotel room. J. Lo's chiffon palm-print Grammy's dress with a V-neckline that plunged well below her belly button. The tight red number Julie Roberts as the-hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold wore to the opera with borrowed jewels. (If you're keeping score: Versace, Donatella Versace, Marilyn Vance-Straker.)

You know all these dresses--as well as the 97 others profiled in Hal Rubenstein's new book 100 UNFORGETTABLE DRESSES. And if you are a lover of fashion it's a must-have for your library--or coffee table. The book itself is beautiful to behold with with its embossed cover featuring a close-up of the bodice of a Jackie Kennedy dinner gown by Givenchy. (I was all set to buy this as an ebook and read it on my iPad, but it's only available in hardcover. Thanks the sartorial gods!)

The beautiful photos of the exquisite frocks in 100 UNFORGETTABLE DRESSES make my heart beat speed up a little. Each photo gets a page or so of accompanying text talking about when the dress was worn, the designer who created it, and why it made such an impact. The dresses featured span decades--Coco Chanel's LBD to Kate Middleton's McQueen wedding gown. (Princess Diana's is featured as well.) Plus there are special sections discussing the most memorable dresses of Grace Kelly, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cate Blanchett, Cher, and other fashion icons.

Black Friday is almost upon us, fellow shoppers. Material Girl recommends you add 100 UNFORGETTABLE DRESSES to your holiday I Want It list. (And look for more book recommendations on Material Girl in the near future.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Weekend Shopping with Cheapy: Banana Republic

Cheapy is not a fan of shopping. He'd rather spend money on a bottle of scotch than a new clothes, and he's got little patience for The Mall. But every so often, he declares: I really need some shirts! And off we go.

He made a shirt declaration last weekend and I happened to know that Banana Republic was having a 40%-off-your-entire-purchase thing going on in their stores. (They email me. I keep up.)

We headed to Banana, but not the one at The Mall near our house. We like the other one better. (Nicer layout and they carry petites.) A trip to Banana is a great way to start a Saturday night date and makes me look forward to a New Outfit Monday.

Lately I've adored the offerings at Banana. Adored. I've scored a number of jackets, tops and sweaters as well as a few items from their Mad Man Collection (including the quick-to-sell-out leopard print trench which makes me happy every time I wear it). Their designers are really hitting my sweet spot these days (which I certainly can't say about the Gap--haven't even seen anything I want to try on there in years. The Gap sucks. There: I said it.)

If you hit the BR website today, you can get 30% off of full-priced items. (There are still a few hours left!)

Here are a few of my favorite recent Banana Republic acquisitions:

There's nothing a love more than a blazer that feels like a sweater. Looks good, feels good. That's a win and a win. This one is soft, comfortable, warm and vintagey.

You can never go wrong with a leopard cardigan. Or a leopard anything (says the woman with leopard luggage). (This is so cute. And I want this.)

I find this drapey top to be both flattering and versatile. It's great for layering with sweaters, vest and jackets and is a perfect companion to a statement necklace. 

This scarf is perfect. Light and drapey and ideal to wear at work at a chilly office. It also comes in a flattering shade of pink. (You can't have too many scarves. Even though I'm pretty sure I do.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

BirchBox: A Monthly Visitor You'll Look Forward To

Finding packages on my porch is always exciting, but, except on my birthday and around the holidays, I always know what's going to be in them. (I do most of my shopping online.)

So I was really happy to recently discover a delightful mystery-package-on-the-porch treat: BirchBox. You sign up on their site and for just $10 a month, you receive a beautifully packaged box of curated product samples. It's always a happy surprise. And every month I've discovered at least one product that I now love and/or can't live without.

Some recent favs include the best lip treatment ever from Jouer (I'm slightly obsessed), a fab blush by Laura Geller, and fun-and-easy peel off/press on nail polish appliqu├ęs (in glitter!) from Incoco.

If you like the samples, you can hit the BirchBox shop and buy the full-size product. They give you a reward point for every dollar you spend and 100 points = $10 in the store. Shipping is always free for the full-size samples from the monthly shipment (and free over $50). And, beside making great beauty product discoveries, you'll never have a shortage of sturdy boxes and pink tissue paper.

(You can like BirchBox on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Fashiony TV Friends

I have LOTS of TV friends (just ask Cheapy). My favorite kinds of generally fall into two categories--fictional angsty teens/young adults and reality fashion/
makeover/shopping. (Sometimes there's a bit of overlap. See: GOSSIP GIRL.)

Now that PROJECT RUNWAY is over, I need to fill the gap in category two. (I miss Tim Gunn already. I once walked past him on the Upper West Side. It remains my favorite celebrity citing ever.) (FTR, I totally called Anya's win. I think her clothes are gorgeous but I could never wear them. I would kill for a some of Victor's pieces.)

To help me survive my Tim withdrawl, I've added a few shows to my DVR rotation:

MAD FASHION: (Tuesday 10PM, Bravo) Chris March makes outrageous outfits for Housewives and Jennifer Coolidge types. There are wigs and headpieces and dresses one cannot sit down in. There's a drag queen. There are yards of glitter and sequins. Chris March laughs that laugh of his. It's half an hours of shiny, sparkly joy.

FASHION HUNTERS: (Tuesday 10:30PM, Bravo) The inner workings of a high-end consignment stop in NYC. I love staffer Karina who wants to buy everything before it gets out onto the floor. That would be me with her job. I just watched an episode featuring a home visit to peruse a podiatrist's designer shoe collection (that was certainly worth my than my house), and How to Spot an Authentic Chanel Bag 101.

PROJECT ACCESSORY: (Thursday 10PM, Lifetime) I missed the first episode, but there are designers making everything but clothing and Molly Sims dripping in statement jewelry, so I'm pretty pumped. Baubles, shoes and bags are the icing on the fashion cake (and, after all, what separates us from the animals).

Are you watching any of these, fellow shoppers? How would you review them?

P.S. You should all be watching FASHION POLICE. I'm a Joan Ranger. You can be a Joan Ranger, too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brand I Dig: Nervous System Jewelry

I've been coveting jewelry from the Nervous System line for quite a while (and just scored a few pieces for a song from a Fab sale). 

Inspired by shapes in nature, the line is at once delicate and space-age funky--leafy, webby, dendrite-y. I can't help but have a visceral reaction when I look at it, as if I'm walking through the chic woods with a detour through biology class.

I also appreciate the philosophy of the company. Here's a bit on their vision as found on their site:

Our products are designed to be affordably and ethically made. We use manufacturing methods that do not require large facilities or massive manual labor. Often we employ rapid prototyping methods by which all unique pieces can be manufactured at the same cost as cookie cutter ones. We use inexpensive materials and believe that the value of our designs comes from an intelligent and beautiful marriage of form and function, not the current price of currency standards. 

My Nervous System pieces are perfect accessories for fall--particularly the spider web-esque necklace and the bare branch earrings. Totally affordable pieces of wearable art, they are lightweight, comfortable to wear, and lovely to look at.

You can shop for the line on the Nervous System website (they also offer housewares) or find the jewelry on endless.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Breakdown of Flash Sales Sites

During my two-year hiatus blogging, the biggest innovation in online shopping since the dawn of the Internet Age has emerged: flash sales.

If you're not familiar with the term, flash sales are online shopping "events" or "boutiques" that start at a certain hour and go on for a short period of time. Flash sale sites are great places to get clothes, shoes, accessories and items for your home from your favorite designers at unbeatable prices. But there's a rub--these sites have limited inventory, and the competition can be fierce. Events for coveted or lower-price brands can sell out quickly. (Shoes, handbags, jewelry and vintage can be spoken for in minutes.)

But Material Girl is never one to shy away from a shopping challenge, so I've developed an easy-to-follow strategy. Which I will share. Followed by a quick run-down of my top five flash sale sites.

First, join. Obviously. Once you sign up and become a member, you'll receive daily emails from the sites telling you what events/boutiques/sales (they all have their preferred term) are happening that day, usually 10 or 15 minutes before they open.

Get the apps. All the sites below have apps. Install them so you can shop on the go.

Plan ahead. Flash sale always have events coming up. Watch their list of upcoming sales so you know when to log on. You can find this info on the sites and in the daily emails. (I've been known to put a reminders in my calendar.)

Shop early. Hit events as soon as they open or you could miss out on the best stuff.

Put things in your cart even if they're maybes. You can always delete items from your cart, but if someone else has reserved the handbag or the size 6 dress you want, it could slip through your stylish fingers. If you think you might want it, pop it in your cart just in case. (Note that flash sale shopping carts have a time limit. You generally have in the neighborhood of 10 minutes and then items in your cart are once again up for grabs. This gives other shoppers a chance at the merch and it can also lead to impulse buying.)

Watch for repeats. If you miss out on something you want, all is not lost. You may see the same item in a brand event on another site in the near future (which happened with an adorable Rebecca Minkoff dress I scored over the summer). Or one site might offer repeat events with old and new merch from that designer you love giving you a second chance.

Now for my breakdown...

MYHABIT is my favorite flash sale site (and not just because I work there). The site offers designers whose clothes make my heartbeat speed up. It's beautiful to look at--the white background is easy on the eyes, as are the models. Plus, unlike any other flash sale site, MYHABIT features 360 videos for clothing, where you can watch the model do a spin in the garment. It's cool to see how the clothes move--even if it's a 5'11' size 2 doing the moving. (MYHABIT has recently started offering plus size events so you can see regular size models, too.)
SHIPPING & RETURNS: The shipping is free both ways and super fast. Most items are returnable in 21 days. You get store credit and not a refund (although you can use your credit on and as well as MYHABIT).

Fab is a recent entry into the flash sale world and I find the site, well, fab. They offer mostly home items with a cooler-than-Ikea vibe, but I've found they have fabulous and unique jewelry (although the model shots aren't great--I've seen better on eBay). Fab offers a clean yet colorful look. Their home page is really a day brightener. It's just fun. And I feel a little bit cooler for looking at it.  
SHIPPING & RETURNS: Most items are final sale. They charge for shipping (there's a big range) and it's not fast. But we're talking furniture or stuff from, say, Finland, so that's not surprising.

GILT Groupe was my gateway drug into the world of flash sale shopping. Something about GILT's black background and overall vibe makes me feel fancy and savvy, like I'm rich enough to afford their items at full price but smart enough not to pay it (like Lilly on Gossip Girl while she was on house arrest perusing the app on her iPad). They are, after all, a Groupe. With an 'e.' I like that, in addition to events from a single designer, GILT offers multi-brand themed events for things like LBDs, the perfect white shirt, or fall sweaters.  
SHIPPING & RETURNS: Shipping is slow-ish (2-3 weeks) and they charge $5.95. Most item are returnable in 21 days. You can get free shipping for returns if you opt for a store credit, but if you want a refund, they deduct up to $14.95 to cover return shipping.

Rue La La offers a number of good designers, but it's lower on my list for the look alone. If MYHABIT and GILT have a SAKS vibe, Rue make me feel like I walked into Macy's. I see merch I like but I have a feeling the dressing rooms might be a little messy and offer unflattering lighting. Their Rue 30 shipping policy is a great deal for frequent shoppers--you pay $9.95 once and you get free shipping on everything else you buy for the next 30 days--and I've found their shipping to be speedy.
SHIPPING & RETURNS: You have 30 days to return Rue merch. They offer final sale items, too, so pay attention. You can get free return shipping with a store credit, but if you want a refund, they deduct $9.95 for return shipping costs.

While I've scored a few good items from HauteLook, it is my least fav flash sale sites. The model shots are better than Rue, but they don't offer a lot of designers that interest me. It's worth perusing their daily email, but I don't click through to peruse the merch nearly as often as I do for the other sites. (They've currently got a fantastic furniture event, however. But I'm a little reticent to buy a $900-sale-price chair without sitting in it first. Anyone who's worn high heels knows pretty-and-chic doesn't always equal comfortable.)
SHIPPING & RETURNS: You have 21 days for returns. They have several categories that are always final sale so pay attention. You can get a store credit or a refund minus $5.95 return shipping cost.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hello, Lovers!... I'm Back & Better Than Ever

(You may have noticed) it's been more than two years since I posted here.

Well, Material Girl is back and better than ever. The blog has gotten a fabulous makeover from my talented (and sweet and handsome) friend Nate. (He's a like a graphic designer version of Clinton and Stacy all rolled into one but without any of the bitchy.)

When I began posting here, my day job was helping creative people realize their dreams. (Really--it was my former company's actual motto for a stitch.) Now I help savvy shoppers realize their fashion dreams, working for by-far-the-best flash sale site going, spending my days caressing designers duds and dreaming about how they'd fit into my already-crowded wardrobe. (FTR, this blog is in no way affiliated with and/or endorsed by my employer. It's all me, girlfriends.)

Over the last two years, I've done a lot of shopping. Ive read countless fashion mags. I've invested thousands of hours in makeover- and style-themed TV. I've gained five pounds. I've cleaned out my closet seven times. I've made a bazillion shopping, style and product discoveries (and probably plunked down that many dollars). So, fellow shoppers, we're going to have a lot to talk about!

Keep an eye on this space where I'll share my shopping adventures, weigh-in on trends, give up my favorite places to browse and buy, and impart my personal shopping and style wisdom acquired over decades of dedicated practice.