Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cotton Pajama Sets

A few weeks ago, my brother's godmother (and my mother's best friend) invited us to stay at her beautiful beach house for a really fun weekend. As we drove to town one day, she pointed out the house they used to rent decades ago, and I mentioned that I still have a small scar on my knee from falling off a bike in that dirt driveway when I was a child. Later that weekend, I was busy looking at a plane overhead instead of the rock I was stepping onto, and I twisted my ankle, proving that even as an adult, summer is always a treasure trove of small injuries.

So far this summer I've managed to avoid a sun burn, but summer's other injuries have not passed me by. Besides the twisted ankle and some requisite mosquito bites, I have had poison sumac, a spider bite, and a chemical burn from sitting poolside on some citrus juice that was baking in the sun. Some people may think I'm accident-prone, but I know these are actually all simply signs of a good summer -- badges from being outside and enjoying the world.

Most of these little badges have come from trips outside of the city. One of the best parts of summer is getting out of New York for the beach or the country, and I've been taking advantage of as many weekend trips as possible to visit with friends and family by the beach and by the lake. Something that I've noticed on these trips is the usefulness of classic pajamas.

Whether it's for coffee on the porch or pancakes at the table, it's wise to pack something for sleeping that can be worn to breakfast. Sometimes I pack leggings and a tee-shirt because they can also be worn for a walk on the beach or a quick run to the coffee shop, but there is something to be said for packing classic pajamas, even if it's just a weekend trip.

Pajama sets are conservative enough to wear down to breakfast, lightweight enough to take up little space in a bag, and in a classic cotton style of full-length pants and long sleeves, are surprisingly useful for both winter and summer trips -- after all, summer mornings are always cool by the water.

Not only are they nice for traveling, but wouldn't they make a great hostess gift wrapped up with a bottle of bath salts?  For a hostess gift, I'd go with blue because everyone likes blue, and it looks good on every skin tone.

For a style that will be useful for years to come, stick to cotton sets in pink, white or blue. For a lightweight and flattering style, avoid jersey versions, which weigh a little more and cling a little more as well. Here's a roundup of a few pretty sets ranging from $40-$100...

images from left: J.Crew, The Vermont Country Store, and L.L. Bean

images from left: LaurenBrooks BrothersJ.Crew, and Brooks Brothers

Doesn't just looking at them make you long for a lazy vacation day -- in or out of bed -- right now?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sleeping Better

Feeling better and enjoying the new mattress.
Memorial Day weekend was a very exciting and expensive few days in our household. Not only did we travel to New Orleans for a few days where our little pooch got sick and had a couple of expensive visits to the veterinary E.R., but when we arrived back in the city, we turned around and went out to buy a new mattress.

Unlike the surprise visits to the veterinarian, the mattress purchase was long anticipated. The old mattress wasn't really a mattress at all -- it was a fat roll-up version from Ikea that probably had more in common with a futon mattress than a real mattress. I had been sleeping on it for over ten years, and while its ability to easily be moved made it the perfect choice when it was purchased, a decade later it lost all of the comfort it originally possessed.

Even so, I was hesitant about buying a new mattress. I knew it would be an expensive purchase, and more importantly, one that would require a little planning so that it would hopefully last for a very long time. I wanted to hold off for as long as possible, and we certainly did -- from the first real discussion about upgrading to the time when we actually bought it was almost a year.

In the meantime, we did three things to prepare to buy an item we would be able to keep for a long time: We saved up for it so we could make the purchase without using a credit card or affecting our real savings, we started comparing mattress reviews online, and we bought one of these foam mattress pads to help hold us over.

While this was going on, my increased attention to mattress prices made me realize there was one more thing to keep in mind: Mattresses are often on sale during national holidays. So, once we knew what we were looking for, the price range we were prepared to spend, and saving up was finished, we waited just a little bit longer... This time for the next big holiday to roll around.

After all the waiting, on Memorial Day we headed to Sleepy's and made our purchase in just minutes. We were assisted by a very friendly and helpful man who told us that we were not the only ones to take advantage of the 50% sale prices -- while the store usually sells a couple mattresses a day, on Memorial Day, they sold over fifteen. The holiday sale was a great deal for us because we knew our budget, and we were able to get a higher-end mattress for the price we were willing to spend.

Heading in, we knew we wanted a mattress with a minimum of ten years warranty, since that gives an indication of how long it should last, and a mattress protector, since New York sometimes has bedbug outbreaks. But we learned that mattress protection is important for more than just our reasoning -- a mattress protector is the best way to keep a mattress warranty from being voided.

This being the first real mattress I have ever purchased, I certainly had no idea that a stain on a mattress voids the warranty. Apparently, ten, fifteen, or even twenty years of warranty goes right out the window the minute a mattress gets a stain. I'm so glad we were told -- while it's certainly possible to keep a mattress for that long without staining it, it is helpful to know that a mattress protector also protects the warranty.

I was also surprised to learn that some mattress protectors also offer their own warranties. The type we ended up with will send us replacements whenever we need one over the next ten years. Since I love that my phone's screen protector offers replacements for free, this was great news.

We may never take advantage of a replacement protector, and we may never take advantage of the mattress' warranty, but when they are offered at no additional cost, it really does say that the company backs up their quality, which is always something that makes a big purchase a little easier...

And makes it twice as nice to sleep well on our new big purchase.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Following C. Z. and Jackie

image from Time & Life Pictures / Gety Images
via Huffington Post
C.Z. Guest did it.

Jackie O. did it.

When icons like these agree, it’s worth taking note.

Actually, when it comes to fashion, I wouldn’t be surprised if both women agreed on various rules to follow, but one that sticks out for me is the way they both bought multiples of clothing that they liked. It really makes so much sense – if you absolutely love the way something fits, why not buy more than one?

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis famously purchased the same pieces of clothing in various colors. If she liked the way a sweater fit, she might buy it in both navy and white. And why not? It can be so difficult to find clothing that one really loves, so why not get the same item in multiple colors to help fill out a wardrobe? Imagine how easy daily dressing would be if one’s favorite piece of clothing could be worn three times in a week simply because it was owned in three different colors.

With a slightly different approach but just as useful for her, C.Z. Guest was reported to have purchased exact duplicate copies of all of her clothing. If she found a sweater she liked in white, two of the white sweaters would be purchased. According to some, Mrs. Guest bought doubles so that her Palm Beach and New York closets would be identical, ensuring that dressing, as well as traveling from one home to the other, would be an easier task.

These days, many contemporary women also purchase multiples of the same items. Practicality being a fundamental piece of preppy, this approach is often seen in preppy wardrobes, and is one of the reasons that from year to year classic clothing companies offer the same styles, often in new prints. It might be a straight skirt from Vineyard Vines, a shift dress from Lilly Pulitzer, or a Norwegian sweater from L.L. Bean, but year in and year out, a relied upon piece of clothing can often only be improved upon by another purchase of the same item. Some women do this with suits too – if suits are worn regularly, it makes sense to buy one that fits well in grey as well as navy. If one wears jeans regularly, it's wise to buy two pairs and have one hemmed to the right length for flats and the other hemmed to the right length for heels.

image via Handbag
Over the years, I have also purchased multiples of clothing I really loved. As even the most classic of clothing companies have been switching out their most reliable and loved items for versions boasting shorter hemlines or more polyester, I find that purchasing multiples all at once when I can find them, just as Mrs. Onassis and Mrs. Guest did, to be the easiest way to ensure a closet of pieces that I love. But I have also wasted money with this method. Sometimes there is only one color available that I like, and in trying too hard to make a second color work, I have ended up with some odd color choices that were rarely worn even though I adored the same item in a different color. With these mistakes in mind, I now try to be a bit more careful about buying in multiples.

There are certain items that make sense to follow Jackie on: Sweaters, shift dresses, button downs, and straight skirts are staples that won't go out of style, and therefore are a few smart choices. When I purchase a single item and quickly discover it’s going into heavy rotation in my closet, I love to check out the other colors available right away to see if any other options are ones I like. Most recently, I did this with this Boden dress and was able to get the second one on sale, which is something that often happens when I find myself going back for a second helping of clothing.

Other items, like white tees and, for me, cheap flats are contenders for following C.Z. Guest. When one item wears out, as these both tend to do for me (since I seem to destroy all flats as fast as I break them in), a replica can be waiting in the wings. Another advantage to buying the same item a few times over is that when a beloved staple is discontinued or changed, one has a backup ready to go. I wish I had remembered to do this with my favorite white tee from Everlane, because it’s since been discontinued.

And of course, whether one follows Jackie's system of multiple colors, or C.Z.'s style of buying exact copies, classic styles and pieces are always the ones that work best. This way, one doesn't need to worry about having too many of an item that is only a passing trend, and instead will have multiples of items that can be worn for many years to come.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Make it Better: Great Gatsby Headband DIY

Several weeks ago, a friend invited me to the Princeton Club for a Great Gatsby themed party. It was fun, and the timing was fantastic because I have been considering joining the Williams Club, which operates out of the Princeton Club. It was great to have a chance to not only see friends, but also experience a party where I could get a better sense of whether I wanted to join the club than a simple tour of the facilities would have given me.

But of course, one of the best parts was getting dressed up! I resolved to not spend a lot on a costume, but I needed something to pull my outfit together, and what more fun way is there to capture a 20's feel than a crystal headband?

All of the options I found to purchase were either very expensive or looked rather cheap, so when my friend Sarah put together a truly beautiful collection of inspiring photos on Pinterest (her other boards are beautiful too), I found just the look I needed and headed to the trimmings shop to work on a creation of my own.

The shop had hundreds and hundreds of sparkly options to choose from, but I was shocked to see that some of the ones I liked the best ran upwards of $75 for a yard. I wanted to spend no more than $20, and the shortest length they would sell me was a half of a yard, so I decided to look at the options around $40 per yard.

This price range took away some of the prettiest of the lengths of crystals, but still gave me tons of options to choose from, including many that had fabric backings to hold the beads in place. As I held up each potential choice in the mirror, I realized that the fabric backing was much more comfortable against my forehead than the ones without fabric, and that it would also work better for my DIY than a length of trim with only metal pieces holding the crystals together.

By going for a shorter length of trim I was able to choose a more expensive, and therefore more decadent, option for $20. A foot and a half of trim will not go all the way around an adult's head, so I used the elastic to make up the difference. This worked out well because I wanted to curl my hair anyway, and knew I could tuck the elastic under the hair to hide it. Plus, the elastic also made the headband snug, keeping it in place all evening.

Keep reading for the tutorial...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cheap Trick: The Bottom of the Bottle

There's a commercial running on television right now for a face cream that promises to be fast-acting, and therefore won't be added to "your wrinkle cream graveyard." Every time I see this commercial, I think, "wow, I'm so glad I no longer keep products that I don't use."

The main part of my strategy for not wasting money on cosmetics is to buy from places that allow returns. Today, I returned two items to Sephora... I was completely in love with each one when I bought them, but after using them at home for a short time, I discovered that I actually still preferred a different brand I had used in the past. The new ones just weren't as great at home as I thought they would be from the advertising. But the big surprise for me was that the two items totaled $100 -- I certainly didn't remember having spent so much on them, so I was very pleased that returning them allowed me to break even when I bought my old brand again. $100 is a lot of money to send to a "cosmetics graveyard."

The other strategy I use to save a little money on beauty products is even easier than bringing disliked items back -- I try my best to get every last drop from every bottle. (While I'm certain I'm not the only person who does this, it's so useful that it's still worth mentioning.) Using a pin or cutting open the bottle often results in days and days of more product to use. The conditioner in the picture above shows a great example of this -- the bottle is designed in such a way that although there was nearly a week's worth of conditioner left in there, it seemed empty when I tried to access it from the spout. By cutting it open and covering it with plastic wrap between uses, it didn't dry out, and it kept me from having to run to the store for a few extra days.

This picture also highlights the real trick to being able to get to the bottom of the bottle: The type of bottle the product is in.

Pump bottles are often hard to open, and I find it frustrating to know there's more product inside that I've paid for, but cannot reach. So, without making myself crazy about it, I try to purchase bottles that will allow me to get to the very bottom. If there's something I love and it's only sold in a pump bottle, say, Fresh's deliciously-scented Lotus Eye Gel, I won't deny myself the product, but if there is another option I like just as much, like Origin's GinZing, and it's in a container that allows me to use every drop, I'm more inclined to go for that one. Plus, if the container can be re-purposed later for bottling up travel size quantities of products, that's even better.

The money saved in these cases isn't enough to resort to Draconian measures and only buy certain types of bottles, but if there are two options, the better bottle just might be enough to make one product seem a little bit better than the other. It's the exact opposite of falling for beautiful packaging... Falling for practicality instead.