Persimmon/Cerise with Camel and Mahogany by 3-Penny Princess
Well, we can all agree that this has been a most interesting year, economically speaking. Gas prices went through the roof to hit record levels, and now they're hitting record levels for recent years on the low end. Real estate sales finally went up after a stagnant year (at least in the close-in D.C. area) only to plummet following the credit crisis, then they rallied unexpectedly at the tail end of the year thanks to falling interest rates. Banks had quite a roller coaster ride themselves as the mortgage industry collapsed and one after another lending institution went out of business, which was followed by a massive flurry of refinances and an almost complete freeing up of credit to consumers at the eleventh hour of 2008. The automobile business is another story, as the Treasury just finished earmarking $358.4 billion out of the $700 billion bailout to save the industry.
Retailers in many other industries didn't fare too well either, with the retail industry as a whole now facing what many believe to be the largest rash of closings in 35 years. Here's just a sampling of major chains that have or are expected to close some of their locations, courtesy of AOL Money & Finance:
- Linens 'n Things filed for bankruptcy protection in May '08, and several months after failing to find a buyer the company began a liquidation sale in October.
- Foot Locker announced in March '08 that it was putting 140 more of its 3,785 stores on the chopping block in addition to the 274 it closed last year.
- The Home Depot expects to close 15 underperforming stores in the U.S.
- Ann Taylor announced plans to close 117 underperforming stores by 2010.
- Circuit City stores filed for bankruptcy protection in November '08, while KB Toys followed suit in December.
- Eddie Bauer is to close stores 27 stores and more after January '09.
- Talbots, which also owns the J. Jill brand, closed 78 stores in 2007-2008. They also announced plans earlier this year to sell their J. Jill stores.
- GAP is closing 85 stores.
- Macy's is planning to close 9 stores after January '09.
- Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, and Catherine’s are expected to close 150 stores nationwide.
- Diamond powerhouse Zales announced in February that the company was closing 50 kiosks and 55 full-size stores by the end of July, as well as trimming its headquarters staff by 20 percent.
The Polka-Dot Cherie Cami In Black by FFM
Not one of these major economic forces, however, succeeded in keeping me away from the stores. I'm determined to get my shopping fix, come hell or high water. This year has been particularly painful for my pocketbook. In the past 12 months, I've brought home more clothing, shoes, and accessories than I did in probably the last 3 years. J.Crew became the primary source of my goods while Ann Taylor/Loft, Banana Republic/Gap/Old Navy, and Express/The Limited shifted into the background, warranting only the occasional visit. To be fair, I also shed a good 70% of my former wardrobe this year - even more than in previous years. The biggest beneficiaries of my obsessive closet cleaning were my new sister-in-law, my aunt, and the usual thrift store for the blind (though in much lesser quantities due to the first 2 recipients). I shipped a few extra-large boxes to my aunt, who - at age 60 - has the figure of a 40-year old and still dresses to kill. I literally sent my new sister-in-law home with close to 30 large shopping bags and boxes (over 3 visits). Lucky for her, she is also petite but happens to look good in all the styles and colors that don't flatter me.
After pruning like mad and completely re-organizing all of my belongings, I was able to build a truly exceptional wardrobe, one that I can be proud of. One that I can pass on to my children if I should die tomorrow (you never know!). I even went a step further and discovered the most helpful (and addictive) tool of all: Polyvore. It allows me to upload and add from the world's largest virtual closet all the goodies that are currently in my actual collection, plus all the great finds I bring home. Then, I set to work creating set after set of perfectly coordinated color combinations, outfits for various occasions, and even fantasy ensembles - right down to the jewelry, coat, and accessories. Again, the two J.Crew groups, J.Crew Aficionadas and J.Crew Fanatic! proved to be goldmines of inspiration, thanks to the talents of others who share their fashion ideas and creativity.
Now, I can look back and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I can get genuinely excited every single time I need to leave the house, because I know that I always have something to wear. I finally banished the "I Have Nothing to Wear" Beast once and for all. I have no excuse to avoid social functions, look sloppy at work, or not be ready for a last-minute getaway. Heck, I've even got glam outfits ready just for running out for a carton of milk. Take that, '50s sirens!
Pumpkin Ecole with Golden Roses Cherie, Watercolor Lydia by 3-Penny Princess
Granted, this monumental wardrobe transformation came at a price. A very, very hefty one that I'll still be paying off into the good part of 2009. The good news is, I did manage to save several pretty pennies while getting my hands on a lot of pretty pieces. After all, I'm not the 3-Penny Princess for nothing! Here are some of the retail acquisitions I feel most proud of this year:
Original Price: $598.00
Purchased For: $94.50
2. J.Crew Double Cloth Tulip Coat in Deep Persimmon
Original Price: $330.00
Purchased For: $125.99
I was so taken with these espadrilles that I bought 3 pairs: a madras fabric print called Wild Berry, Gold leather, and Pewter leather. The unbelievable comfort, pretty colors, and excellent quality of this ubiquitous yet better version of a summer staple was truly unexpected. They prompted me to write a rave review shortly after purchasing them back in August. And at this ridiculously low price, it would have been a crime not to swipe 3 pairs from the store. Read my full review here.
5. J.Crew Metallic Clea Herringbone Jacket in Deep Persimmon
I first tried on this baby-fine wale cord jacket on in late July when the early fall collection appeared in stores. At that time, I agreed with the jacket, but not with the price of $118. Not because I didn't believe that a well-constructed, fully-lined blazer should cost that much, but because I wasn't entire sure of the fit. Topped over a diaphanous silk chiffon tank in the sweltering summer heat, I wasn't sure if the slightly boxy fit would flatter my slender shoulders. Also, to be fair, the price was a slight issue because there were dozens of competing cord blazers offered by other retailers for much less.
A couple of months later, as sweater weather kicked into full gear, I revisited this jacket, now at a much more palatable $59.99. This time, donning a rhubarb Cashmere Long-Sleeved Tee over a contrasting tank top, I tried on the Peplum Cord Jacket in ecru. Lo and behold, the fit went from too-boxy to just-right over the mid-weight cashmere sweater. I liked the jacket's slightly puffed princess sleeves and slightly shirred back below the waist. The rounded collar helped to soften the boxy cut and the 4 well-placed buttons allowed for a snugger fit where I wanted. I cashed in my 30% off and bought the ecru on the spot.
A month-and-a-half later, I realized how much my wardrobe could benefit from the navy jacket and kicked myself for not buying it before it sold out in my size. Luckily, while scanning eBay for Christmas presents, I came across 2 navy ones in my size: one was being hawked for $79.50, while the other one beckoned me at just $29.99 with free shipping. I didn't have to think twice - I bid on the cheaper one right away and got another great deal on a great jacket. While the ecru one goes well with bright colored tops and jeans, the navy one looks sharp with my numerous ivory pants plus red and pink skirts (as well as my rhubarb dressy Bermuda shorts from spring). The jacket is classic but not boring, and the interesting details will help keep it fresh for a few seasons. It's the perfect thickness for early-to-mid fall and mid-to-late spring.
This luxuriously soft sweater debuted this past winter during J.Crew's Roman Holiday (see the February 2008 catalog). At the time, however, I thought $185.00 was not only exorbitant but insulting to those of us who had watched last year's cashmere pill like crazy. Also, when I tried it on in the store, I couldn't figure out what size was appropriate. The fit was definitely "shrunken" unlike many of the year's baggy sweaters (that frankly resembled sackcloth in their fit). Also, the colors that my store carried weren't at the top of my list. So, I eventually forgot about this cardigan. Apparently, others snapped them up following progressive spring, summer, and fall sales.
Enter November '08 when I started seeing them pop up every other day on the final sale online. By now, I had picked up a few high-quality cashmere specimens such as the Femme sweater and Rosette cardigan (above) that were not only supremely soft but didn't seem to pill. But still hesitant to take a chance on the shrunken cardigan during the fall final sale, I instead jumped at the chance to grab one on the J.Crew Aficionada Great Weekly Exchange.
Well, let me just say that it was love at first sight and touch! What sumptuous baby-soft yarn! What gorgeous, saturated colors! And what a dreamy silhouette for a petite figure! Finally, a sweater that looked as nicely fitted on me as it did on the models. After I wore the Fresh Clover one - the first one I had purchased - for a full day during a trip to the wineries, I immediately set out to add to my collection. Fortunately, every time I placed this cardigan on my weekly "wish list" on the Weekly Exchange, the same fabulous seller found me and sent me new colors.
Good thing, because these sweaters are like candy! You can't have just one. I ended up buying 3 from her (plus another cashmere v-neck bow sweater from the fall collection). I can't say enough about the Cashmere Shrunken Shawl Cardigan! The 3 are sure to be among my most-worn sweaters as we head into the new year.
8. Michael Kors Amherst Large Shoulder Bag in Vicuna
Original Price: $398.00
Purchased For: $156.00
My fondness for this bag only grows the more I carry it. It's a rich shade of saddle (the Coach equivalent of "whiskey") in a buttery-smooth leather that literally seems to melt in my fingers. It goes with virtually any color scheme, for any occasion. It can be tossed over your shoulder as you're running out the door. It can expand to fit your whole life but doesn't weight a ton. And it has so many bloomin' pockets! A large exterior front flap pocket, a hidden exterior back open pocket, 4 interior open pockets for cell phone/handheld/lipstick/mints/etc., and yet another larger interior zip pocket. What more could you possibly ask for in a bag?
First, let me start out by singing the praises of Cole Haan dress shoes. They're padded inside with Nike Air cushioning and a Nike Air rubber patch on the part of the sole that hits the pavement, making this dress shoe not only office appropriate but practical for walking. After you've been standing in 3-inch heels for hours, your feet will thank you for choosing these shoes that are contoured to hug your foot where it needs it without squeezing the parts that don't. If you've got high arches or need to be able to walk on concrete, Cole Haan Nike Air technology offers much more support than the average dress shoe. The beauty of these pumps (literally) is that they are highly fashionable and follow the right trends without sacrificing timeless elegance. I think they really elevate any outfit to a higher level, whether you're wearing a suit or just want to glam up jeans. The quality of the materials and the overall design and craftsmanship of the shoe is phenomenal. I'd pin this pump against a Manolo or Jimmy Choo stiletto any day in terms of quality and comfort. The best part? With Cole Haan's numerous sales this year, it's easy to catch most anything you've had your eye on for 30% off the sale price within a few months of it's retail debut. While not the cheapest shoe out there, it's still a great buy at $151.96.
Original Price: $495.00
11. J.Crew Merino Lili Ruffle-Chiffon Cardigan in Cerise
Original Price: $110.00
Purchased For: $41.99
What I didn't know, until I brought it home and started trying it on with everything, was how well it layered under other sweaters and especially jackets. Peeking out under a structured brown glen plaid jacket, it brightened up an otherwise staid suit. The feathery red-orange ruffles also danced gracefully under both last year's chocolate velvet Bella blazer and this year's ecru Peplum Cord jacket (see above). Whether I paired it with jeans or camel trousers, it lent a warm glow to the ensemble. While I'm not sure I would even picked it up if it had been full-price, it was without a doubt a brilliant purchase at $41.99.
I have to admit that I've been slowly won over by much of the past year's jewelry collection at J.Crew. The unique designs and always workable colors somehow manage to be the perfect little finish to many stylish outfits. Some of the hand-painted jeweled cuffs and enamel bangles have been quite stunning, and their substantial weight along with the sturdy craftsmanship made me more confident to invest in them. Nevertheless, I still balk at paying anywhere near full price for what is - despite its exquisite design - non-precious costume jewelry. No matter how they try to spin the story of a rare yellow bead that was manufactured in Japan before the war and now found in limited quantities, I am simply not going to shell out $98 for a brass chain-link necklace because it contains a handful of Czech crystals, or $65 for plastic-looking 70s beads - even if they are hand-knotted and fitted with a French wire wrap at the ends.
That's why I was pleased as punch when the striking wide Zebra Hinged Bangle Bracelet not only re-appeared online after I broke an earlier model (from another brand), but was priced at a truly can't-miss $24.99. With my 30% discount, I snagged it immediately for an ultra-satisfying $17.49. It matches so many items in my wardrobe, it probably would have been worth the full price in retrospect. Fortunately, I got it for a steal and can now feel less guilty about buying another one (on sale, of course).
13. J.Crew Frances Blouse in Cherry Blossom
Original Price: $98.00
Purchased For: $29.99
When this blouse came out this past spring, this print flew off the shelves. I didn't think I'd even find it until one random day in mid-summer when I visited my store and accidentally saw it on the clearance rack in my size. I heard the angels sing that day, because it was definitely meant to be. This delightful and incredibly versatile blouse is as perfect by itself for the dog days of summer as it is layered under a cashmere cardigan. It really punches up an all-white skirt suit, and the subtle ruffling is a nice contrast to the straight lines of a traditional lapel jacket. It looks great with shorts, jeans, skirts, and under just about anything. The cherry blossom print is entirely flattering and feminine without being over-the-top saccharine.
Hands down the warmest coat in my closet. Knocks all my J.Crew wool-blend coats right out of the water. Made by Canadians who know the meaning of cold and don't mess around with winter coats. Based in Montreal with offices in Toronto and New York, Soia & Kyo designs marry a tailored European aesthetic with one part English street mod. The result is a well-fitted classic that has equal parts playfulness, equal parts girliness, and loads of grown-up sophistication.
The wool is thick as can be, and it's the only coat I bother with when the winds gust right through and chill you to the bone. This material stands up to the weather while standing up to life on the go, where I spend much of my time. My second find from this brand, I am highly impressed with the excellent materials and expert tailoring. It's also a nice treat to find that the sizes run a bit closer to European, so an x-small is truly for x-small people. No hemming was required, and there's not much wiggle room underneath, so only buy an x-small if you wear a size 0-2 in clothing.
The Ines style actually came in 2 other houndstooth color combos as well as solids and tweeds. I opted for the grey houndstooth (pictured) because black and white looks too severe on me. Bright colors go well with this pattern as do most neutrals, including camel and, of course, many greys. I actually contemplated buying this coat for about a month right after seeing it on the racks at Macy's. I tried to shop around to find the best deal, but I didn't have any luck. Only Macy's actually carried it in-store, and the online retailers who had this style didn't carry it in the grey color pattern.
Shortly before my birthday, after surviving a particularly blustery November stretch with unusually cold temperatures while spending a lot of time outdoors, I finally bit the bullet and coughed up full-price. The only consolation was my usual 20% off that I've come to expect as a Macy's cardholder, which brought the price down to a slightly more swallowable $300. Within 10 days, however, I was thrilled to see that the price had been marked down to $275. I confidently marched up to the counter - while wearing the coat - and (very nicely) demanded a price adjustment plus the 20% off (a discount I never seem to run out of). They were happy to oblige, and I ended up with a much better deal on a truly fabulous, incredibly warm coat. Since I've had occasion to wear the coat this month on the colder days, I've gotten many compliments on the print and the unique neckline, which can be work as a funnel or as an open collar. I highly recommend the coat and the brand overall.
15. Amazing Styling Advice and Ideas from Extremely Talented and Creative People:
Retail Value: Priceless
Purchased For: $0
Fabulous Florida Mommy (FFM) has been a tremendous asset to all of us in the J.Crew Aficionada community. Other Aficionadas and Polyvore-ites have inspired me greatly too. It's really amazing when people put their heads together to create beautiful ensembles and brainstorm the perfect outfit for whatever the occasion. It also feels good knowing that I have inspired others with my ideas. Sure, we're not creating artistic masterpieces or finding a cure for cancer. But we are helping to make the world a more beautiful place, one person at a time. And, we're giving each other always-needed confidence to get out there and make something special with our clothes instead of just settling for the tried-and-true or the basic black. So I want to thank FFM, JCrew Chick (aka Slastena) , Naomi*, and Busy Mom in NY (among many others) for both challenging and inspiring me daily with your styling talents and fresh ideas.
I wish everyone a fabulous New Year, and may you have a happy, healthy, fashionable, and bargain-filled 2009!!
Slastena brought to my attention that the Cole Haan Sierra boots in the model photo are actually styled with the J.Crew Metallic Jacquard Mini from earlier this year. What a fabulous pairing! I guess J.Crew and Cole Haan were meant to be together. I couldn't find a picture of the skirt anymore, but below is a bigger photo of the page from the Cole Haan Fall '08 catalog, still online.