Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Holiday Bling, Without the Frostbite

As I sit here nursing my painfully swollen sinuses and babysitting the cat, having just picked him up from a grueling (for him) vet visit and scrubbed all his dining items and floor following his unpleasant bout with a tummy infection, the merry sights of tinseltoe and festive sounds of holiday music are the furthest thing from my mind. In my semi-miserable condition, while I attempt to comfort my nose and throat with soothing pots of tea, I can't even fathom slipping into a luscious velvet concoction and getting glittered up for the holidays. And yet they're creeping in. Signs of the holidays. First, sneaking in with little white lights innocuously strung across storefront windows. "It gets dark so early now, we have to add a little more light." Sure, I can buy that. Then, coming like the fog on little cat feet here and there, boxes of holiday cards here, bags of red-wrapped gourmet chocolates there. For those who are so disgustingly ahead of the curve that they insist on writing their cards in mid-November (and require some chocolate assistance while they work?). Fine, let the anally inclined rejoice. Slowly but surely, the trimmings of the holidays arrive, and presto -- one day, you're out getting dish soap at Target and find that the whole darn store has come alive with holiday spirit. That's when it hits you. They're heeeeeeere.

And that means one thing: holiday parties. The average social lady and gentleman-about-town have a minimum of 5 holiday parties to attend. Add 5 if you have a multitude of (equally social) friends, 2 if you and your spouse are gainfully employed, and another few if you have a large extended family, particularly with step-parents and such. That's a lot of partying. And everyone expects you to shine like the North star while you dazzle your spouse's coworkers, impress the heck out of your in-laws with your rendition of egg nog, and charm the pants of your friends with witty tales. All the while remembering to send them all cards in a timely manner and buying enough toys and treats to open your own ebay boutique.

Another thing I've noticed is that holiday parties start earlier and earlier each year. It used to be (or so it seemed) that holiday parties were held, well, closer to the actual holidays. Of course, there are so many holidays now to choose from -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Eid -- who knows which holiday a given holiday party is celebrating? But still, I've considered it an outrage that our annual Scottish Christmas Walk in Old Town Alexandria occurs without fail on my birthday weekend, December 2nd. That alone brings in tourists and heavy foot traffic -- and what's up with it happening 3 full weeks before Christmas? But at least that's been taking place for more years than I've been around. What excuse does my office have for throwing the holiday party on December 6? Even more incomprehensible, who at my husband's place of work decided to have their holiday dinner on Friday, December 1st? I mean, I'm still recovering from the marathon feast that is Thanksgiving weekend during that week. At least they're feeding us steaks from Morton's, which isn't altogether a crime... A further conundrum is when to invite people to our house for dinner or just cocktails. I'm trying to find a spot on my calendar, but my better planning friends have already beat me to the punch. There are just no Fridays or Saturdays left in December, and the Sundays are quickly disappearing. At this rate, we won't have our post-October honeymoon wine and cheese party until January, and forget about the ladies' Sunday brunch, book club dinner, or girl's movie night. They will have to wait until January if not February with the way my schedule is booking up.

But I digress. The real fear I have with holiday parties is figuring out what to wear to each without running up my budget. I'm not such a Hollywood diva that I can only wear one fabulous dress one time before retiring it. But on the other hand, I can't exactly show up to each party in the same knock-em-dead dress or the same show-stopping accessories without repeating myself on film. And you'd better be sure that everyone takes pictures at holiday parties. Those are the photos that get printed out, make it into frames, and get passed around to the whole world. Maybe because everyone makes an effort to look cheery and decorate themselves to the hilt. And why not? There are so many vivid, shiny objects to compete with. Besides, the weather outside can be a bit frightful by then. A little bit of pizzaz never hurt a girl, especially during the holidays.

Which brings me to the point of this discourse. I was fumbling through my nightly assignment of catalogues last night while blowing my nose on cue every 90 seconds with the other hand when I finally opened a Ross-Simons catalogue that had fallen by the wayside (under my bed). Tired of the endless Lord & Taylor non-sales and already having taken my fill of Macy's one-day-sales, I thumbed through it, happy to look at glittery objects for a change. Obviously, I wasn't in any financial shape to buy an estate piece, and Lord knows my other half had bought his share of bling in the past year -- more than enough that gave him the right to curtly nip any idea in the bud that hinted that I should expect something sparkly in this year's stocking. So I wasn't really looking to spend on jewelry, mind you.... But I had a small card I could still play. My birthday, after all, was 2 weeks away, and I believed myself to be entitled to some small token of radiance. And so I thumbed. Hesitantly at first, but more bravely after I began to notice some exotic little pieces.

Sure, I had heard of amethyst, but what was it doing in a gorgeous carnation-pink cushion-cut ring? What in heaven's name were"aventurine," "diopside," and "kunzite?" How about "lemon quartz" -- was there a "lime" and "orange sherbert" quartz too? Despite the wacky names, there were some alluring pieces in there, and I had to have a closer look. Of course, plenty of diamonds caught my eye, and I would obediently slap my hand and quickly turn the page each time. But what really stood out were the unusual semi-precious stones, not unusual by name as I had heard of many of them, but unusual in the way they were set or their color. Suddenly, a bright orange citrine blazed like the sun surrounded by a corona of white topaz and encrusted on a 14-carat yellow gold ring. Large dollops of yellow-green peridot glowed, suspended on gold earring wire. A giant pink tourmaline towered like a beacon over a circle of tiny diamonds, while a cluster of clear icy aquamarine dangled like lasers. All in all, this was a captivating collection, and not just for one such as myself who is easily distracted by shiny objects.

Now, I can't stand wearing fake, or "lab created" stones. I prefer my jewelry au naturel -- it's either real diamonds or it's nothing. I'll take ravishing row of garnets over "synthesized" rubies any day. So if you're of similar ilk, you'll be pleased to know that all of the jewels I endorse here are the real thing. Even better, they are considered semi-precious stones, so they are actually worth something. Personally, I've always considered fine jewelry to be a fine investment, which sometimes justified otherwise completely unnecessary purchases. Before you laugh at me, let me tell you a story.

When I was in college, I worked for Christian Bernard Jewelers, an upscale jewelry store at the already upscale Georgetown Park Mall. Having managed to convince the manager to hire me -- even though my prior retail experience consisted of selling underwear -- I spent many evenings and weekends dressing displays and peddling tres cher trinkets. Shortly after I started, the manager, who was at that time in her mid-fifties, took a liking to me. She told me about her family and her travel adventures, and she lived vicariously through my tales of college parties and romantic affairs. Anyway, she convinced me to start collecting nice jewels. The reason? When she had first graduated from college, she needed to buy a car. At the time, she didn't have credit, and her assets were rather low. But having come from a family of jewelers, she had accumulated a fine collection of estate jewels. Good thing, because the bank accepted her estate jewels as collateral and gave her a car loan. Allegedly, she used the same "assets" to be approved for her first mortgage. Fine jewelry, after all, doesn't really decrease in value, and sometimes, it increases multifold. So you see, collection real gemstones and gold can actually pay off.

So how does this story relate to holiday glam? It doesn't really. But if you're like me and you can't resist a brilliant bauble every now and then, you might as well buy real gemstones. And, you may be surpsised to learn that some of the most exotic-looking stones have very down-to-earth prices. Check out Ross-Simons and see if you can pick up a few holiday lights that won't burn out. These hot stunners are so dazzling they could make any ordinary diva look like an old-school Hollywood starlet. That should make you look forward to some holiday parties. The scintillating conversation is up to you.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

La Dolce Vita: Tales from Italy - Rome

As promised, here is the 1st of 3 posts dedicated to our whirlwind Italian adventure. We spend a total of 23 days on our European honeymoon, most of it being concentrated in middle and northern Italy, beginning and ending with London. The following travelogues were written using a Blackberry Pearl (without a QUERTY keyboard!).

October 12 - When in Roma

Enjoying a memorable trip (2nd for me) to the Imperial City. We are staying in an impressive hotel with a giant patio and a separate balcony 100 yards from the Trevi fountain. Our entire hotel is made practically out of marble. In fact, the whole city is made out of marble. No wonder it has survived 2000+ years! As we enjoy the crisp air on our long terraza, we are planned each day's sightseeing while resting our feet after traversing the entire city on foot.

This is certainly a city to experience as a pedestrian (and not just because I feared for my life when being whisked about in automotive transportation). The roads in Rome are legendary, and each part of the city promises unique sights, new adventures, and interesting people worth sitting down to talk to. If, that is, you can get them to sit down for more than 5 minutes.

Rome's streets are its very lifeblood, coursing with hurried activity and events of all types. Nowhere in the world will you find a more passionate, vocal, proud, and at the same time important city. New York be dammed -- this is truly the city that never sleeps.

This is also the city that, for better or for worse, directly influenced the history of the Western World and the development of European civilization. Its history is written all over its ancient brick streets and eroded ruins that sit unbothered right amongst boulevards buzzing with modern life. It's a fitting analogy; masterfully interwoven wits its rich, ancient history is a bustling, vibrant, technologically advanced, and still important city.

Its marvelous cuisine -- so far we've sampled fresh mozzarella, orgasmic gellato, cappucinos that never dissapoint, authentic alfredo, prosciutto, and out-of-this-world vitello -- blows many European cities I've visited right out of the water. There is something for everyone here, from simple fresh ingredients to fresh seafood (Rome is, after all, almost a beachside town) to heavy meat dishes with rich, flavorful sauces.

Romans eat heartily for good reason: they need the sustenance to keep up with the frenetic lifestyle. Both the work and the play here requires energy. You almost don't want to sleep for fear of missing something. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, you appreciate the early-morning bustle, the almost-suicidal Vespa riders that fly through the dark narrow alleys at all hours, the throngs of pedestrians that risk their life to cross the non-existent crosswalks to board one of the many busses, the extended wine-filled lunches, the dramatic sagas of young (and old) couples who take their arguments to the streets, the early evening cocktails followed by late-night dinners, the concerts and entertainment that last well into the wee hours, and the ubiquitous bars and cafes serving one last nightcap to those who just don't want the day to end.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and it goes without saying that Rome's infinite monuments cannot be visited in one week. Even a year wouldn't be enough to explore its many hidden treasures. I would venture to guess that all the history buried under its grimy, diesel-coated marble buildings and narrow alleys remains to be uncovered for centuries to come. Its thriving commerce, exciting street life, and diversity of cultures continue to make Rome a solid powerhouse. Yes, this is truly the Eternal City, a city that will not be put to rest anytime in our lifetimes.


October 15 - Last Night in the Imperial City

We ventured out to the hipper, a little less touristy part of Rome last night. Per our young concierge's advice, we hit the streets of the Trastevere neighborhood looking for some lively nightlife and outdoor dining. Trastevere can be likened somewhat to D.C.'s Adams Morgan or a cross between New York's Greenwhich Village and Lower East Side. It's just a little less brutal on the pocketbook, it boasts some hip boutiques that can't be found elsewhere, and it's a blessed relief from the rest of the tourist-inundated city. The crowds are mixed -- families with older children compete for space in the smaller restaurant terrazas with young romantic couples carrying the requisite single rose which was purchased from the numerous gypsy-like street sellers.

The restaurants here are even more crowded than in the posh center of Rome, especially on a Saturday night when the "real" residents of Rome come out to play. Fortunately, each restaurant smelled worthy of the long wait and crowded rooms. There seems to be far less English spoken here, so it doesn't hurt to at least know a word or two. Trastevere also has its share of bohemians, scholars, and pickpockets, which you might expect in the slightly less pricey part of town across the river. There are some less-than-savory parts, but we kept mostly to the safe, well-lit, and well-traveled areas.

So far the concierge had been right on with his dining suggestions, which led us to enjoy several excellent dishes of veal, homemade pastas, gnocchi, and of course many glasses of house wine. For lunch we usually opted for the outdoor trattorias and pizzerias which offered fresh pannini, little squares of pizza with all sorts of innovative toppings, salads, and antipasto. All meals were followed by espresso and we visited the gelattorias at least once a day.

The gelatto is truly out of this world! We could eat it all day long - rain, sleet, snow or shine. Each gelattoria strives to be more imaginative than the other, concocting blends that you never really expect to find in one scoop, then heaping yet another unexpected combination on top. This topped off with the occasional heavy cream and stuffed into a freshly baked waffle cup. The businessman clad in strict suits line up along with the teenage couples, fashionable power-divas clad in all black, and moms with salivating children.

Naturally, we had to walk the food off. Staying right in the heart of the high-class shopping district -- namely the areas surrounding the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain -- of course lends itself to exploration of the retail kind. If you think the weekends are busy in your local shopping mall, try getting a foot in the door of Hermes while being pushed along by massive crowds of Roman shoppers, all the while swerving to miss the occassional biker or miniature automobile that dares to take on the pedestrian street.

Having survived some grueling crowd dymanics, I managed to purchase a few stylish garments to better tour the city in (when in Rome). We then headed to my friends Gucci, Fendi, Furla, and Ferragamo for a few treats that Rome is famous for. Oh, not all for moi, of course! Think of the lucky friends and family back home. Not to worry though, my pocketbook sustained only minor damage so far. I'm saving myself for Florence...

Well, it's been a good introduction to Rome. We saw the ancient ruins, the medieval churches, the Rennaisance palazzos, and the modern street life. We stuffed ourselves with incredible Roman cuisine and shopped till we literally dropped in the crowd-infested streets. We could stay for weeks-for months even-and not see it all. But we have other places to see on this tour.

Now it's off to Tuscany!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Party Like a Queen with Mikasa Platinum Crown Expanded Set at Macy's

I am overcome with giddiness as I finish drying and putting away my still-twinkling platinum-banded china that I just acquired on clearance (stole was more like it). Can you believe I purchased a 45-piece fine china collection for only $169.99? It's gleaming white with a beautiful silver band rimming the edge, engraved with a delicate scroll design, and finished with a second thinner silver band. The cups have an old-school ladylike-ness to them which makes me want to lift my pinky as I sip my tea. Anyway, the reason this is such excellent news is that I recently returned from my honeymoon to find that almost no one had gifted us any china settings.

Now, between you and me, this wasn't a catastrophe, as I wasn't going to register for china in the first place. I've always been content with my Target Home collection yellow and blue banded dinnerware, which routinely gets mistaken for the Crate & Barrel Capri Collection (after which I can't resist quipping, "Thank you dear, it's from Target.") So why did I even register for 12 place settings of Kate Spade's June Lane silver china, you ask? Because my mother developed ulcers upon hearing that I had not gone china pattern shopping with my betrothed, and this wasn't going to do. I must have fine china to pass on to my children, she insisted. She called me every day to inquire about which pattern we had finally settled on until I caved in. And also, my friend and bridesmaid Patty -- who had been right about so many other aspects of wedding planning and married life -- told me it was necessary. What would relatives give me if, heaven forbid, I didn't register for 12 place settings of china and all the expensive accoutrements that crowned the dinner table?

So register I did. But receive I didn't. Except for a lovely creamer that arrived in the mail, 2 types of bowls (each of which I registered for separately as for some reason Kate Spade doesn't believe in providing soup, cereal, or fruit bowls in her place settings) that were a present from Patty, and finally, 2 very generous place settings from my childhood friend Candice and her parents. So this was the extent of my fine china kingdom? Two china settings, 2 random bowls, and a creamer? And this was supposed to help me become a proper hostess how, exactly? Normally, I wouldn't have fretted, but recently we had been volunteered for quite a few holiday parties and family dinners. I had the in-laws coming over for dinner in a week. We had been promising to have our friends over for a big wine & cheese party to share our honeymoon photos and treats we had brought back from Italy. Plus, Christmas dinner for the whole gang just 6 short weeks away. My paltry collection -- however pretty it looked sitting on top of my buffet -- simply wasn't going to work.

So how fortunate was it that Macy's decided to have their biggest one-day-sale of the season exactly when I was looking to grow my china collection? It couldn't have been timed more auspiciously. After all, I was registered at Macy's, so all I had to do was take back the china I had received and exchange it for something I could actually use. So, I proceeded to pack everything up, carry it into my car, and make a trip to the Macy's return counter. And how much do you think 2 place settings, 2 little bowls, and a creamer earned me? $457! Wow!! Those were some pricey pieces. The saleswoman asked if I wanted to exchange it for anything? As a matter of fact... I whipped out my folded-up Macy's flyer, turned to the dog-eared housewares page, and asked if I could please see the Mikasa Extra Values china sets.

There were 2 expanded sets on clearance: Mikasa Platinum Crown (top photo) and Mikasa Cameo Platinum (right). I followed the saleswoman to the china table and inspected both patterns. The two were equally elegant and thus worthy in my kitchen, though the Platinum Crown had just a little more bling. That made it the obvious choice for moi. The 45-piece expanded set, which consisted of 8 plate settings (including actual soup bowls), a creamer, sugar bowl, round platter, and large serving bowl, was on sale for only $199! But my luck was unstoppable that day, because the $199.99 set -- which normally retails for $380 -- was reduced to $169.99. Now that's an unbeatable value! You can't even buy a 20-piece set to serve 4 people for less than $137.10 (at least that's the lowest price I found, at Rudi's Pottery). Even Macy's was pawning each place setting for $39.99, which would total $159.96 to serve 4. So imagine what an absolute giveaway 8 place settings + a sugar bowl + a creamer + a serving bowl + a platter is at $169.99!

Without hesitating, I snatched up a 45-piece set and rushed home to unpack it. No broken pieces, no missing plates, just perfect. Immediately I loaded up the dishwasher with my new set to make sure it could take the heat. No problems whatsoever, not a scratch on the platinum band. Finally, I made room for my 45-piece set in the upper tiers of my cabinets. It all fit, somehow. Fabulous!

Now I'm ready to entertain like a proper queen! And I paid sheer pennies.

I just went back to try and get another 45-piece set (you never know when you'll have more than 8 for dinner) and saw that Macy's price was now back up to $199. Rats! Oh well, you can't win them all. But it's still a fantastic value at $199, so maybe I'll get it anyway...
Post Post Script:
Well, what do you know? I eschewed the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday insanity and bided my time. As luck would have it (again), Macy's sent me a friends & family coupon for 20% off. So I went back and purchased another 45-piece Mikasa set -- which was still priced at $199 -- for $167 with my discount. The 3-Penny Princess strikes again!


Saturday, November 11, 2006

House of Tar-zhay: Haute Couture for the Masses

I finally dragged myself out the door last night -- well, let me be honest -- my husband pushed me out the door last night -- to make the monthly Target run. Since we had been away for the past month, and there had been too many last-minute wedding details to attend to before we left, I hadn't made a proper Target run since mid-September. Upon our return to the States, I had been procrastinating, buying time each day with various excuses to run this or that errand, clean the house, or get groceries that I had forgotten. But now, we were dangerously low on toilet paper, the cat had no litter, and there was a very real possibility that we would have to clean our teeth with baking soda as we were down to our last squeeze of toothpaste. I was out of excuses and I would simply have to go. Even if it was Friday night. The movies would have to wait.

So it was with a fair amount of lethargy -- and with no excitement whatsoever -- that I finally waddled over to Target, full after a carb-heavy meal and with my usual after-dinner unbuttoned (but at least fully zipped) jeans. Upon entering, I was greeted with the requisite "dollar bin" full of little notecards and party supplies that is just another innocent way that Target manages to squeeze an extra $20 out of your trip (I could have sworn I only bought paper towels and bottled water -- how did I end up spending $40?). Tempted but resolute not to spend any more than I had to, I kept reminding myself that I was really, truly broke now after the expensive honeymoon shopping trip, a $200 hair dryer that I had to buy immediately upon return (because I blew up the old one as soon as I plugged it into the first London hotel room outlet -- there was literally a shower of sparks that flew out of the wall), and now a brand new pair of leather boots (however cheaply I may have gotten them), plus the new Victoria's Secret bra that I had already forgotten I had purchased. So no more wasteful spending if I was going to make it to the holidays. Not even from the dollar bin.

Sighing with relief, I proceeded further into the store with my newly found cart and pulled out my shopping list to examine. Let's see, dishwashing detergent, toothpaste, tissues, batteries ... where to go first? I know, let's keep walking ahead so I can check out the latest women's apparel. Wait, that's nowhere near anything else on my list -- in fact, it's completely on the opposite end of the store. Oh, it will only take 5 minutes. I just want to look quickly. Please....? Oh, okay. You win. But we're only passing through for 5 minutes, just to see if there are any cute workout pants. Yes!! (I regularly have conversations with myself -- sometimes, I manage to have silent ones).

As soon as I made that fateful decision, a host of temptations accosted me on the other side -- the women's apparel department, that is. Would you look at that gorgeous velvet and satin cocktail skirt. I wonder how much it is. It would be great to have something new for the holiday parties this year. And check out the sharp black mini-trench. A bit reminescent of the Burberry one I had just brought back. What's that I see? A luscious floral silk cami and a rich burgundy velvet skirt! Equally fetching on the next rack was a silver brocade party skirt and a lace-trimmed black cardigan. And oh my, that is a striking burgundy brocade cropped swing jacket -- I'll bet it would be swell with the burgundy skirt. Love the black pencil pants too! I would really rock the town in those topped with a furry leopard-print short jacket (see top photo).

Am I seeing things, or does the label on those pencil pants say "Behnaz Sarafpour"? And does that silk cami tag say "Paul & Joe"? What are they doing at Target? I had been faithfully flaunting my Isaac Mizrahi for Target finds ever since he started designing chic, elegant ready-to-wear at thrift-store prices 3 years ago (while simultaneously debuting an exclusive couture line for Bergdorf Goodman). But now, all these other runway goodies seemed to have hit the Target aisles. Thank goodness, too! Now, a girl could walk into Target for toilet paper and walk out with a Bahnaz Sarafpour evening dress, Paul & Joe jeans, Isaac Mizrahi shoes, Rafe handbags, and correspondence cards by Anna Griffin. Granted, Isaac Mizrahi didn't start the couture-to-chain-counter revolution. Lots of well-known designers have been producing less-expensive creations for the masses (remember Martha Stewart for K-Mart?). But, Isaac pioneered truly well-designed, couture-worthy cuts that could pass muster on 5th Avenue almost as well as on Main Street. This resulted in a much improved wardrobe in the closets of millions of working-class women.

Isaac's belief? "The only way I can substantiate doing the high stuff is doing the low stuff -- it's the democratic way. I get upset when it's just about expensive clothes." Me too! But what is the secret of Isaac's success? "American women are not dumb. They don't want copies of designs from last season... People aspire to high fashion, and they get it with this line. A bang for your buck!" There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth (courtesy of Shop Etc. Magazine, October 2006). At a star-studded fashion show in 2004 , he showcased both the Isaac Mizrahi for Target and Isaac Mizrahi New York fall lines in combination with each other. The funny thing was, some people couldn't tell which was which.

I've tested that theory, by the way, and it works. Not that I have loads of real couture to test, but I've got plenty of Target-couture that I wear side-by-side with prizes I've scored off the Saks sale rack -- and everything in between -- and frankly, I get as many (or as few) compliments on one as I do the other. Moreover, I've been on the giving end of such compliments, only to be informed that the cute handbag or chic blazer came from Tar-zhay. In fact, I have no shame in pairing Mossimo jeans with Manolo sandals, or Isaac Mizrahi for Target jackets with Marc Jacobs bags. I don't even mind mixing it up with the "lesser"Target brands (Xhilaration, Merona) if they go well with my higher society pieces. Fashion is about mixing it up, right? The important thing is that the pieces are cut well for one's body and fit properly, and certainly one take a $20 skirt to the tailor as easily as a $200 one. Which in fact I do, frequently. Sure, no one expects triple layering or hand detailing from Target, and I'm not advocating that everyone should buy their next interview suit there (though I've witnessed more than a few savvy gals who wear a Target coat like it's Tocca or a Mossimo suit like it's Michael Kors), but it's great for fun splurges and keeping up with the endlessly changing trends. Think of it as haute couture for the masses.

Needless to say, last night's battle was over before it started. I mean, how could I resist the spectacular faux-fur trimmed coat for $69.99? The outrageously stylish rectangular tortoiseshell sunglasses for $19.99 (see bottom)? The super-luxe velvet skirt with the satin waistband for $29.99? The deliciously divine red suede ballerina flats for $29.99? Or the ultra-chic black pencil pants for $34.99? I couldn't of course! They would have to come home with me. At least a few of them... So into my still-devoid-of-household-products cart they went. Unfortunately for my anxious husband (not to mention my poor kitty), I didn't make it to the household aisles for another hour.

But do you want to hear the worst part about it? My husband loved the new velvet and satin concoction! Just like he loved the new boots I just found a few days ago. And the $200 wool skirt I just had to have in Florence on our honeymoon. And the $600 Gucci bag I scored in Rome just a month ago (which I will admit was a good deal). And the $960 trench coat I bought in London 2 weeks ago. In fact, my husband loves almost everything I bring home. Instead of discouraging my shopping habit, he actually encourages it. On several occasions, he has shoved me out the door (every once in a while with cash in hand if I wasn't cooperating) to go shopping so he could carve out plenty of quality time in front of ESPN, Play Station, and some inexplicably addictive video game called Civilization. He brags to others of my shopping conquests. He convinced me to start a blog about my shopping adventures. Do you see the impossible odds I am up against? I can't not shop. Birds fly, fish swim, and I shop. Period. It's a damn good thing I'm such a smart shopper (European honeymoon splurges not withstanding).

Anyway, here are some of my favorite reasons to capitulate. Can you really blame a girl for falling in love with these gloriously cheap goodies?

Isaac Mizrahi Quilted Leather Gloves, $22.99

Isaac Mizrahi Chocolate Stretch Cotton Jacket, $19.99, and Box Pleat Skirt, $12.49

Isaac Mizrahi Flip-Frame Handbag, $27.99

Isaac Mizrahi Faux-Fur Trim Coat, $69.99

Isaac Mizrahi Black Satchel, $22.99

Isaac Mizrahi Brown Silk Chiffon Dress, $59.99

Behnaz Sarafpour Lace Headband, $7.99

Behnaz Sarafpour Granite Brocade Skirt, $39.99

Behnaz Sarafpour Satin Skirt with Velvet Ribbon, $39.99

Thank you, Tar-zhay for another almost guilt-free shopping experience. And thank you Isaac and Behnaz for making a girl look like a million for a hundred bucks. With prices this low, there is simply NO excuse to dress unfashionably this season!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Princess Seeks Tall, Dark & Handsome Boots

The Mission:
To find a new pair of boots that are perfect for this season. It's finally starting to get cold, and I have nothing to model my newfound fashion sense in. They must be knee-high. They must be a shade of cognac-brown or burnt sienna, something that will stand out from the boring chocolate browns that everyone has, and will look equally fetching with an olive tweed jacket and skinny jeans as with a cardigan and black courduroy pencil pants. They should have wide enough calve space to accommodate tucked in pants. The heel should be at least 2 inches but not more than 3 inches, and the sole should be comfortable and have enough traction to support me all day and survive on slippery surfaces (icy streets, slick shopping malls). Nothing too stilleto in the heel, but not completely stacked either if possible (though I see stacked heels are back again, which isn't a complete loss). Leather would be most practical, but I have a soft spot for suede and will definitely consider it if the rest of the boot measures up. But please, no slouch! As for style, I prefer something with equestrian details, preferably the English riding boot style rather than the straight American cowboy boot. But I can be flexible for the right look. Oh, and I'm willing to pay up to $250 for them. But of course, if I can find something closer to $150, that would really rock this princess's world. As I explained in my last post, I'm broke, having depleted my wealth in London, Rome, Florence, and Venice. So I'm not even supposed to be shopping (please don't tell my husband). It's just that I burn with desire for the perfect boot of the season, and I do consider boots to be a good investment. So this is what will occupy my time until I find what I'm looking for.

The Background:
Let me back up a little. Upon returning from London and Italy, I was so taken with all the boot styles and innovative ways to wear them, I swore that I would bring this trend back to the States. So, I rummaged through my entire shoe collection under the far reaches of my guest bed and unearthed all previous boot purchases, many of which had been buried in their large boxes for some time now. To my sheer delight, I found 3 promising pairs that had been lost and forgotten, and I immediately set out to resurrect them with new outfits.

The first, a classic, substantial-weight dark brown leather straight knee boot, was dead in the water. I managed to squeeze my foot into it, but zipping it even to the beggining of my calf proved impossible. Gosh, had I really gained that much weight in my legs? I know I grew a little bit of a derriere, but can that really roam and find its way all the way down to my calves? In any case, old boots #1 were out.

The next pair was a marvelously tall, sumptuously soft, light camel suede creation that I had picked up at Lord & Taylor about 4 years ago. At that time, I had only thought to wear them with neutral plaid fall skirts, and since I hadn't worn too many of those colors lately, they had fallen by the wayside. Well, that and the fact that they towered on a 3-inch heel, which frankly, is a bit much for me to gallop in all day. I appreciate a nice set of heels like everyone, but boots aren't the easiest things to teeter in, and 3-inches is no small height. But, because they were a beautiful pair, and I had brought back in some lighter shades for my fall wardrobe, I put them on for a test run, this time over my new Italian skinny jeans. Lo and behold, they actually zipped. Not all the way at first, but eventually I coaxed them up to almost the top of the zipper. Mind you, they just about cut off my circulation with the jeans tucked in, but I managed to take them out for a spin for a few hours while running errands. The verdict: Not the most comfortable feeling boots, but they got me a few nods of approval, and they made me feel very tall, so with time, perhaps I could stretch them enough to wear them without losing feeling in my legs.

The 3rd old pair was about the same age, though I can't remember where they came from. They were a very classic, very plain, good quality black leather high boot with plenty of stretch vents and a conservative 1.5-inch rubber square stacked heel. Nothing trendy or interesting whatsoever, but the type of boot that saves you on a cold, treacherous terrain, allows ample breathing room in the calves, and lets you wear thick cozy socks. The kind of boots that will never, ever go out of style. But not the kind of boots that will ever get you noticed.
Deflated, I resigned myself to the fact that I simply had to go out and buy a pair of fashionable boots and that was that. How else could I stay warm during what promised to be a record-cold winter and look cute at the same time? How else could I do justice to the stylish new threads I had brought back from Italy and London? I would have to find a pair of stylish boots and soon. There was no time to lose.
It was off to the races!

The Contenders:
Day 1 - Started my quest at Marshalls, where all bargain shoppers flock. Well, there and TJ Maxx, and sometimes Filene's Basement if I can make it into the city. Checked 3 Marshalls stores but no dice. Prices were great, but the styles just weren't what I was looking for. Found several pairs of Frye boots (right) that are very of the moment, with plenty of cowboy detailing and interesting buckles, but they're all pull-ons. Not going to work! I mean, come on, if I can barely scrunch my jean-clad calves into a pair of zipper boots (unzipped), how on earth am I going to push the entire leg casing into a pair that doesn't even open up? Give me a break, that leg space is so tight in there, I can't even sit on the toilet without unzipping both legs to breathe. Too bad, because the prices are going to be hard to beat here.

Day 2 - Had to feverishly scurry about and clean every crevice of the house because my mother-in-law was coming over for dinner for the first time to see the new nest. Couldn't leave to do real shopping. Instead, scoured ebay for all manners of "equestrian" and "English riding" boots, after a while just settling for just "knee-high" in a "US Size 6". Saw a perfect pair just about to expire -- shiny black leather with burnt-orange top, totally classic English riding boots. They were slightly worn, but looked perfectly nice to me. The price was right too. At the time though, I wanted to explore a little more, as this was the first item that came my way, and I never buy the first thing I see. Well, after about 3 hours of browsing (not consecutively, mind you), I gave up. Either too cowboy-like, too heavy in the metal, not enough detail, or too perilous of a height. Not nearly enough boots in my size. Drats! Should have taken the first pair. Oh well.

Day 3 - Did some online reconnaissance. Trekked through Zappos.com, Shoes.com, ShoeMall.com, ShoeBuy.com, Macy's, Aldo, Nine West, and Nordstrom. Found some definite hopefuls. Loved a lot of boots from La Canadienne, particularly:

Also adored the Biviel line, though the majority of their prices are closer to $300. These were an exception:

Other notables were from old standbys like Etienne Aigner and Vaneli, always known for high quality and upscale designs, but with far friendlier price tags. The Vaneli Narayan was an interesting almost olive color. That could work with a lot of clothes.

Finally, rounding out the mid-range price category was an eccentric little pair from Matisse. I threw them into the mix for a little uniqueness:

Good day of browsing! Not sure if I have found the one yet. All the contenders are possibilities, but each seems to lack something, whether it's a comfortable sole, mid-height heel, or just a little more equestrian essence. Will keep looking.

Day 4 - Panicked a little and wandered into expensive territory. Got an email from Coach.com and clicked to see the new fall offerings. The Sara boots (right) are totally sassy and I love the turnlock calf closure! Too bad they're pull-ons. Oh, and that they're $498.

Moseyed over to Bluefly.com to see this week's couture bargains. So many stunning Prada boots! Perfectly minimalist but so exquisitely elegant. As always with Prada. But even at the "sale" price of $784, it's a little much for me to splurge right now. Sorry Prada! Maybe next year.

Continued over to Saks.com to torture myself. Oh, my, God -- shouldn't have done that. Forget Prada! The devil is wearing Gucci this fall. I'm still completely drooling over the Gucci ravishing red suede Britt Mid Heel Boots (right). And they're only $995. I fully expected them to sell out at over $1400. Very reasonable, I think. If you don't need to pay your mortgage this month. But it was fun to look.

The Coach boots seem like such a bargain now! Found a cute pair of Lacoste "Bonnie" boots in the highly noticeable shade of Carmin (left) at Zappos that could work when I'm feeling racy red. Back within my price range, too, at $224.95. These Michael Kors Hash boots in Redwood (right) aren't bad either, but do I really want to pay $333.95 at Zappos? I think I can do better on price. Anyway, enough horsing around. It's time to get my butt out the door and make an acquisition.

Day 5 - Finally got out to the mall and did some down-and-dirty shopping. First, I made a swift detour to DSW because I had a coupon to get rid of. Searched every aisle high and low but found only mediocre specimens. Took note of a couple of maybes, but honestly there wasn't anything earth shattering in there. Either too boring or too snowlike, which is great if you're looking for a waterproof fur-lined hot-pink number. Which I'm not at this time.

Entered Nordstrom, remembering that I had been invited to the women's half yearly sale. Heavens! Lots of shoes hung on clearance racks everywhere! Every style imaginable. I dutifully earmarked an attractive pair in a paprika red suede -- not a basic color but the rest of the boot was classic and simple enough that you could get away with wearing it with a lot. And strangely, paprika suede goes with a surprising number of fall colors. Plus it makes jeans really pop. But since it was my first stop, I had to keep moving to get a fair assessment of all my options.

Briefly stopped into Nine West and Bandolino. I liked the Bandolino Crochet, especially for $99! Thought the Nine West Despina was very ladylike with the kitten heel and the buttoned cuff. But why do all the classy boots have to be in such conservative colors?

Dropped into Aldo's. Nothing. Talbots: nothing, despite the adorable shoe collection, particularly the dress flats. Avoided Cole Haan because I knew it was a waste of time, since they were currently slightly out of my budget. In general though, I rave about their shoes and they have a marvelous boot collection this season. I would have sprung for a pair, but the majority were pull-ons or had towering heels.

Moving on to Banana Republic. Thumbs up for the Luella boots, available in brown, black, and a lovely shade of ginger! Good heel height, smart detailing with the pull-on strap. Price is acceptable. But wait a minute, another pull-on? Forget it.

Getting a little tired, but since I'm all the way on the opposite end of the mall, might as well take a rest at J Crew. Hello! Nice Sedgewick boots! Seriously eye-cathing design. The canvas and leather (left) are very original. Even the dark brown suede (below) isn't everyday. Not cheap, at $278 for the canvas-leather and $298 for the leather-suede, but at least they'd stand out from the crowd. I don't know... Hold on -- is that a pull-on I see? What is with these people? Pull-ons are just not practical! Quelle letdown. I give up. One more store left, and then I'm going home.

Finally shuffled into Macy's, my feet pretty sore and developing agonizing blisters from the tightness and 3-inch heel in my old suede boots that I'm trying to break back in. There had better be some good pairs in here. Bingo! It was a boot extravaganza! All colors and flavors, all heel types and heights, trends for all tastes. And the prices? Very competitive. Plenty to choose from under $200 and even under $150. I tried on several pairs, including some sophisticated Arturo Chiang beauties (below), one of my favorite designers that Macy's carries. Equestrian detailing, check. Side zipper, check. (Yes!) Priced within my budget, check. I hesitated. Maybe it was my feet groaning, but I suddenly couldn't bear the thought of spending entire days working, shopping, and running errands in stacked 3-inch heels. The boots would have been perfect otherwise though ...

And the Winner Is:
After trying on countless pairs, I narrowed it down to one. They were:

Franco Sarto Cabot Boot in Cuoio

A tres classy style with all the right trends to look fresh this season but still work in coming seasons. Just the perfect little bits of details to make this classic fresh and right now: pointed toes, cowboy-shaped heels, equestrian stitching, and a rich British tan hue that's a little sassier than the run-of-the-mill black and chocolate brown on everyone else's feet. A shade that's sure to turn a couple of heads, but is still neutral and classic enough to complement many an outfit. And, heels that both I and my aching feet could agree on. Enough rise without towering uncomfortably, and a nicely cushioned rubber heel and sole. Good traction too. I could shop for hours in these boots. An added bonus: they go perfectly with my cherished Ralph Lauren caramel quilted leather gloves, and even my beloved Coach Calf Pocket Satchel. Now that is perfect!

The best part? The price!! Retailing for$182.95 at Zappos.com, $179.99 at Shoes.com, and 179.95 at Nordstrom.com, I beat that price by $50! Macy's sale price: $129. Go 3-Penny Princess!! With the money I saved, maybe I'll splurge on a new cashmere scarf ...

Mission accomplished! After a tiresome 5 days of shopping and trying on dozens of hopefuls, I have finally found a winner.

As I finish this post, I just received an email from Bloomies broadcasting their online boot sale: 25% off boots this weekend only. What a pleasant surprise! I can make room in my closet for one more pair. Maybe I could still use some spicy red boots ... or how about a white pair? White is the new black, after all. Looks like Bloomies' own house brand has just the solution: get both at just $99 each (see top for Bloomingdales Ainsley Tall Leather Boot, $99). What a fabulous deal!

Now, just keep your fingers crossed for that record-cold winter!
Oh, and those devil-red Gucci suede boots? They are officially sold out. And just when I was considering pawning a few bags ...