Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Tips for the Gift Challenged and Some Holiday Resistance...

As we enter the 2nd week of December, the pressure starts to build to complete your holiday purchases, get them shipped on time (or wrapped on time), and make it to all those holiday functions. Unless you're a master procrastinator like me, in which case the pressure is on to simply start: start shopping for presents, get a tree, drag the Christmas boxes full of decorations down from the attic, get into the holiday spirit, etc. No doubt many of you took full advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday snag some serious bargains.

If you're like me, however, you're really dreading holiday shopping this year. I'm not even motivated to go out and return stuff, let alone start browsing for new buyables (for me or otherwise). Part of it is a massive guilt trip that has built up from months of over-spending, evidence of which is now staring me rudely in the face on my credit card bill -- including my J.Crew bill which I'm forced to pay today.

Another part of it though is an overwhelming desire to simplify this season and rebel against all "necessary" holiday duties. I've been so insanely busy (as you've already guessed from my long absence and sporadic posts) for the last 6 months, it's all I can do to eat and sleep enough these days. I actually took 2 entire days off for Thanksgiving. The first in months. I didn't check my work emails and I didn't even feel bad about it.

Instead, I felt a sudden urge to completely clean out my room and overhaul the contents of my entire closet, which I re-organized and effectively re-built. In truth, I was kind of forced to do this as my supposed-to-be-temporary Ikea garment rack that I had bought in a pinch 4 years ago -- which turned into a full-time open wardrobe for the majority of my work clothes -- finally breathed its last and dramatically collapsed in slow motion all over my bedroom floor. Mind you, I tried to resuscitate it twice by tightening the screws and uncurving the metal support bar that had warped profusely from years of abuse it was clearly not intended for.

But after the 3rd yelp I uttered in protest from my lower back, my husband came running in and literally dragged me away from the contraption, which he then cleared off and unhinged for good. It didn't help that it crashed onto several valuable pairs of recently purchased J.Crew heels (courtesy of all the recent discounts) which had now taken up permanent residence in 3 neat rows on the floor in front of said late garment rack (may it rest in peace).

Anyway, I spent the rest of Thanksgiving evening reorganizing, cleaning out, and making better use of the storage space that was still intact. Which continued into the following morning and finally concluded when I cleared out an entire storage shelf and proceeded to line up every pair of the floor-dwelling heels so they would no longer be a trip hazard. I even created a new shelf above the closet where I finally shoved all my work totes that had been lounging for 6 months on the guest bed. A week later, I purged another 4 shopping bags of stuff and brought the whole compilation to my favorite consignment store, Mint Condition Boutique (which, by the way, sells boatloads of the cutest stuff on earth, including lots of J.Crew pieces).

And while I have been admittedly productive in the last 2 weeks, please understand that -- amidst the weekly household chores and cleaning -- I simply don't have time to play domestic goddess these days aside from a few hours a month that I accidentally get due to a cancellation or lucky scheduling. Which incidentally happened today, providing me with an unexpected opportunity to catch up for coffee with dinagideon (see her post)... but I digress.

That's why I decided this year that I wouldn't -- *gasp* -- send out holiday cards. Before you scold me for lack of grace and proper etiquette, I would like to say in my defense that, each year for the past 8, I've bought, hand-written, addressed, stamped, sealed, and mailed no less than 80 cards each December. Which is of course tacked on to the holiday shopping duty that falls almost exclusively on me, plus the decorating, planning, and family dinner preparations that befall me as well. In the past, I couldn't really say no because DH was working multiple contracts and I was in a "slow time" come mid-December. But this year, with business still in full swing and clients in a rush to complete their agendas before the end of the year, well, I just don't have the time, and I frankly don't care what the domestic goddesses think about it.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. If there's one holiday duty you can't get out of, it's buying presents. Well, some people can get out of it (read: many husbands of dear readers, mine included). But if you're not spending the time dreaming up gift lists, hunting for parking at stores, wading through crowds, standing in line, toting heavy shopping bags, and rushing to wrap it all up in time, then you're at least spending the money for someone else to do it. And seeing as how time is money, I highly recommend either shopping online and having it all delivered to your doorstep (or, better yet, someone else's doorstep) or convincing someone else to take the whole shebang off your shoulders.

If you are opting for the first course of action, online shopping, this definitely spares you the fun of many of the above tribulations (plus the gag-inducing holiday soundtracks found in most stores this time of year - unless you're into that). Even so, online shopping can be almost as daunting as mall hopping. In fact, it can be even more daunting, as there are hundreds of potential gift and clothing sites to choose from. Where do you start? And what do you get for every person on your annually-increasing list? (Did you remember the babysitter? How about the person who takes care of your yard? Don't forget your kids' Tae Kwan Do teachers!)

Fortunately, help is here for both options. For those in the first camp who take the more efficient yet procrastination-inducing route of cyber shopping, my friend Cathy Phillips (who happens to be a professional shopper) thoughtfully put together a list of interesting and affordable sites that will please all genders, ages, and personalities. Because isn't it a yearly challenge to wow the seemingly unwowable people on your list?

Take my folks, for example. My mom, who shops up a storm herself, is always one step ahead of me in the new ideas department. She's probably already seen this gadget, that line of Italian soaps, or this pair of shoes on sale. And my dad, well, his perennial answer to the question of "what's on your list?" is "honey, I have everything I want. I don't need anything!" Which inevitably means racking my brain for the most creative yet not-too-expensive thing that is both interesting and easy to ship to Florida. And since said father is already the lucky recipient of the aforementioned super-shopper mom, I have even less options in the "interesting gifts for the person who has everything" department.

Cathy, who actually shops for a living (unlike many of us who think we do), also publishes a blog along with a fun e-newsletter full of style tips, news, and helpful ideas. Her latest e-newsletter features "Your Online Guide to Unique Gifts." And sure, a lot of people talk about where to get stuff "on a budget", but actually finding cool, likeable, and shippable stuff on said budget -- for all genders and ages -- is a whole other story.

For those in the second camp who are stressed beyond belief, busy with work/life, or absolutely despise shopping (or shopping during the holidays, anyway), Cathy offers an even better solution: Let her do everything. And I mean everything. Why? Because she's a personal shopper, and that's what personal shoppers do! Here's how it works: 1) Tell her who to buy for and what they're like, 2) Let her buy everything, 3) Let her wrap everything and deliver it to you, 4) Take all the credit, and 5) Actually enjoy the holidays for a change! So if you're in Northern Virginia (or D.C.), get in touch with Cathy and find out how she can take this entire massive burden off your shoulder. The time and sanity saved is worth the expense if you can afford it.

And for those who fully intend to buy everything themselves, below is a list of some unique gift sites that Cathy recommends. But hurry! The last day to ship for Christmas via FedEx Ground is Thursday, Dec. 17th and via FedEx Express it's Wednesday, Dec. 23rd. The week of December 14th is the busiest week of the year, so consider shipping next week to avoid the rush! Without further ado, here is Cathy's wisdom to help you shop for the unshoppable:

" If you haven't been sucked into Etsy yet, now's your chance. As "your place to buy and sell all things handmade" it's like an ebay for unique, handmade gifts. This site has so many wonderful things it can become a little overwhelming so make sure you sign up for an account where you can bookmark things you love and organize the pages of your favorite vendors easily. A perfect gift for a college student in a dorm room or a twenty-something in a rented apartment, this website sells self-adhesive, removable wall graphics. I would put this bird in my living room. They've now also teamed up with (another great place to look for gifts, they sell unique t-shirts) so you can vote on new designs as well. and Both of these sites carry art prints that you can use to decorate your iPhone, laptop, iPod, and more for that extra bit of indulgent style. I was turned onto these when I met a woman with this peacock design on her laptop and I just had to find out where she got it. This website is a great source for no frills baby toys. You can shop by category and age. My nephew might be receiving something from this adorable website. One of my favorite boutiques, I'm so glad you can shop online because we don't have one in the DC area. This is a great source for unique statement jewelry at a great price. The earrings pictured above are from this site for only $12! A source of fair trade jewelry, home decor and gifts from Africa, Asia and Latin America, you're sure to find a unique hostess gift for the holidays. A great gift for a distant relative or hostess. There are tons of treats and goodies, a good place to look for stocking stuffers as well. (Fun fact: this website is owned by Ralph Lauren's daughter, Dylan.) This is a great source for gifts for the teenager on your list or just the young at heart who want something funky. For the traveler on your list. Pick up travel accessories and in-flight entertainment for men, women and children. As the name alludes, this site is full of delightful little things you never knew you even wanted. I die for these animal carved wood bottle openers. Great gifts for your coworkers."

Okay, if DH can please climb up into the attic and bring down the Christmas boxes, then maybe, just maybe I can be compelled to at least dig out last year's remains of assorted holiday cards and send out a dozen... No promises though!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hello Again and Surprise! A JCA Get-Together

My sincerest and biggest apologies to all for disappearing -- again! For anyone who may be wondering what in the world happened to the 3-Penny Princess, I'm happy to report that I'm not dead (yet). I haven't been kidnapped or marooned on some deserted island. And thankfully, despite numerous exposures, I have not fallen victim to the H1-N1 epidemic.

No, I've just been insanely and massively sidelined by work. Which is amazing, because it means that my business is booming! The good news is, I'm hopefully in the process of expanding (read: adding staff) which should add a little more breathing room to my jam-packed weekly schedule. Aside from the obvious benefits of providing slightly more opportunities to shop, it could also mean a return to (semi-regular) blogging. So that will be a welcome change!
The other good news is that the ever-social D.C. JCAs were able to put aside their busy work schedules and kids' activities for a wonderful day of shopping and lunch. Hosted by the gracious and attentive associates of J.Crew Pentagon City, we enjoyed a rare opportunity to shop in peace and quiet while checking out the new collection. The divine breakfast spread was most appreciated!
Lugging more than a few overflowing shopping bags, the ladies strolled out to lunch during what turned into an unseasonably warm day. We savored various mezze and wines at the Pentagon City outpost of Lebanese Taverna while catching up on life, work, and of course, our shopping conquests.
Among the JCAs present were Dinagideon, HeidiG, Cleo26, Summerilla, Rosa in DC (who I might add rocked the equestrian flat boots look with last year's fuschia Lexington jacket), and myself. Thanks to Summerilla for snapping the below post-lunch shots.
Also, an overdue congratulations to Slastena who wasn't able to join us due to a much more momentous occasion: the birth of her second son! Best wishes to her and her growing family during this exciting time! And watch out, crewcuts - now there are 2 instead of 1 reason to make more cute stuff.
The day was such a welcome break and a nice way to catch up with each other. I look forward to more fabulous get-togethers!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ooh La La! The JCAs Go to Brunch Parisian Style...

Yesterday, a tres magnifique brunch was enjoyed by 7 lovely JCA ladies. Planned by the alluring Rosa -- who also organized last month's uber-elegant luncheon at the Occidental Grill following Cleo26's unforgettable White House tour -- yesterday's brunch was held at Le Chat Noir, a charming French bistro set in Washington, D.C.'s fashionable Friendship Heights neighborhood.

The ladies sipped mimosas while dining on such delicacies as escargots, mussels, soupe a l'oignon, and a savory selection of meat and dessert crepes. Everyone looked ultra chic in their ensembles. But most agreed that Cleo26 stole the show in her stunning rendition of the Veruschka dress from the February '08 collection.
And speaking of Cleo, she was also the well-deserving recipient of a J.Crew gift card -- a thank you for her stellar planning and efforts to make the White House tour a smashing success. Don't worry Cleo, we're sure you'll find some worthy items to spend it on!

Post-brunch shopping was a must (and even pre-brunch shopping for some lucky gals!), so we made haste to the Friendship Heights J.Crew to check out the latest fall offerings. Yours truly abstained from buying anything, however, in anticipation of the upcoming pre-holiday/winter rollout private shopping event (read: 20% off!) to be held in early November. Stay tuned for more details on that...

A big thanks for Rosa for another splendid lunch gathering and, as always, an excuse to shop en masse. Here we are left to right: HeidiG, 3PP, Drewablank, Slastena, Rosa, Cleo26, and Kat.

I look forward to more fabulous JCA outings with you girls!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

JCAs Shop Michelle O's Closet at the White House!

Well, not exactly... But did that get your attention?

Here's what did happen. A few lucky Washington, D.C. area JCAs became major VIPs for a day as we took an unforgettable trip to... the White House!

Sure, any tourist can gaze upon the lawn of the White House and marvel at this significant national landmark. And some fortunate folks can even get invited to tour the East Wing, the site of numerous elegantly appointed reception halls, tea parlours, and ballrooms where important social gatherings and affairs of state have occurred over the centuries.

But a select few -- the truly lucky and well-connected among us -- will ever have a chance to tour the inner sanctum: the West Wing. The Situation Room. The Oval Office. The place where all the real action happens. And not just on TV.

That's exactly where we were graciously invited last Saturday by none other than Cleo26, a longtime Aficionada and organizer extraordinaire. In attendance were Cleo26, dinagideon, Slastena, Rosa, Kelly, and myself. Thanks to Cleo's persistence and diligent planning efforts (over the whole summer, mind you) -- not to mention serious connections -- we were able to take an exclusive tour of the East and West Wings of the White House. We even got to study the details of the furniture in the Oval Office. And, did you know that those strapping Secret Service lads that roam the White House are not only strikingly handsome but extremely knowledgeable? They provided us with a thorough review of the art and historic specimens that decorated the Oval Office and beyond.

Plus, they were nice enough to take our pictures! Here, the Aficionadas following our East Wing Tour:

And some close-ups:

Here we are after our West Wing Tour:

We also got to tour the famous press room where the Prez is often seen enlightening the general public on the intricacies of policy, politics, and international affairs. Interestingly, this frequently filmed and heavily trafficked room is actually much smaller than it appears. Even more interesting is to walk through the aisles and read the inscriptions at each seat which specify where the invited correspondents sit. You can really tell which media outlets are important and who gets relegated to the back row. Notably missing from the hallowed hall: a J.Crew Aficionada reporter seat. We'll have to write the First Lady and remedy that!

Here we are orating from the press room podium. Why yes, those are our press passes for the day!

And speaking of the First Lady, a number of us seriously considered sprinting off from the designated tour and making a beeline for Ms. O's closet. She would understand, we just know it!

But that's not all! As if a private tour of the White House wasn't enough to impress even the most jaded Washingtonians among us -- including almost-native dinagideon, and yours truly, a 20-year veteran of the Washington scene -- a red-carpet lunch at the Occidental Grill put this fairytale day over the top. A hallmark of the Washington political and social scene since 1906, this luxurious dining and drinking destination is located one-and-a-half blocks from the White House and is next to the prominent (and equally lush) Willard Hotel.

As luck would have it, they were in the midst of D.C. Restaurant Week, an annual extravaganza of where the area's finest food spots offer specially priced menus to sample their unique cuisine. The mouthwatering lunch menu at the Occidental included an out-of-this world starter, entree, and dessert for just $20.99. We enjoyed such delightful delicacies as "Smoked Trout Filet with a Salad of Upland Cress, Apples and Jicama Served with Cider Mustard Vinaigrette," "Chilled Nalls Farm Melon Soup with Diced Strawberries a Touch of Midori Cream and a Sprig of Mint," "Cold Poached Salmon with White Gazpacho, Halved Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes and Bell Pepper Relish," "Grilled Marinated Chicken Paillard Served with Frisee and Radicchio Salad, Beech Mushrooms and Zucchini - Basil Sauce," and "Warm Valrohna Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Bitter Sweet Chocolate Sorbet and Grand Marnier Sauce." Yum! Other goodies not to be missed? The "Goulart Sparkling Mojito" with muddled lime, fresh mint, Bacardi rum & simple syrup topped with Goulart rose sparkling Cava, and the “Pennsylvania Avenue” Punch , their summer time hit composed of Pyrat rum with a mixture of fruit juices & Chambord. Oh, and the exceptional service.

A big thanks to Rosa for organizing the unforgettable luncheon at the Occidental. Here we are savoring dessert following our spectacular meals:

All the ladies looked supremely elegant in their J.Crew ensembles. Despite the overwhelming humidity that embraces the swamp-turned-nation's capital each August (so please pardon my hair), we managed to channel chic sophistication and ladylike charm which evidently turned heads everywhere we strolled. Had Ms. O herself been in town, we're certain she would have joined us for a libation and maybe a riveting discourse over the merits of this season's pencil skirts and ruffled blouses. But alas, maybe next time....

Thank you again to the divine Ms. Cleo, and to all the ladies that made this a truly memorable day!


Check out Slastena's elegant recap of our swell White House adventure along with her photos. What a pretty ensemble! Always chic in her structured jackets, she totally rocked last year's Tulip jacket. That color looks like it was made for her!

Not to be outdone, dinagideon posted a stellar rendition of our daytrip which includes a review of the Twist-Sash dress that made her look positively ethereal! Her charming outfit, topped with a smart navy ruffled jacket and accentuated by polished Cole Haan Air Carma navy pumps, made her the belle of the ball. The real showstopper was her Banana Republic floral statement necklace - so fabulous!

Thanks again for a lovely and unforgettable adventure!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

J.Crew Aficionada Private Shopping Event Recap

A big thanks to all of you who joined us for the 2nd J.Crew Aficionada Private Shopping Session! The event, held in J.Crew Tysons Galleria, drew many of the region's best-dressed girls (and boys). With over 60 RSVPs on evite, the store buzzed with lucky shoppers eager to get their hands on fall's newest pieces. Everyone shopped till they dropped. The best part? We received a 20% discount on all the hottest fall items!

A big shout out and thank you to Val and the Tysons Galleria store for hosting us for this wonderful event and even provided much-needed breakfast treats!

If you were one of the lucky shoppers who attended, please send me your photos to or provide a link to your blog post covering the shopping event. Here are my (only 2) photos:

Me (3-Penny Princess) with Dinagideon and Drewablank:

And a small group shot with (left to right) Summerilla, HeidiG, 3-Penny Princess, AnneG (the co-host), Kelly, Kate, Dinagideon and (hidden) her aspiring lil' Crewcuts Aficionado.

Finally, Some Blog Updates...

To all my dear readers who have wondered where I've gone - my sincere apologies!

Between travel and mountains of work, I just haven't had any time to post! Or, read all of your wonderful posts! Please accept my apologies again for not being around.

Now, on to the social updates in the next posts.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Calling All Jewelry Connoisseurs... Diana P's 1st Private Trunk Show Aug.22-23

Please join us for the first-ever private trunk show at the home of Diana P. of Papazian Jewelry Designs! Those of you who have attended her previous jewelry events or who are familiar with her work will get a chance to be VIPs at her very first in-home show. Come preview her latest jewelry creations, including summer and fall items. Her complete collection will be on display both Saturday and Sunday, August 22 and 23 from 12:00 to 5:00 PM.

Here are some of Diana's recent designs:

And here are some of her pieces in action:

Champagne, wine, light hors d'oeuvres, and desserts will be served. Guests will also receive fabulous swag bags filled with treats and have an opportunity to win some beautiful, unique pieces.

The icing on the cake: receive a 10% discount off all purchases!

Come by anytime between 12:00 and 5:00 on Saturday or Sunday, August 22 or 23.

Evites have been sent out, so be sure to check your email. Please RSVP for the event so we know how many people to expect. If you would like to join us but have not received an evite, please leave a comment here or email me at Friends and family are also welcome , but please send me their names and email addresses so we can send them an evite.

We look forward to seeing you at the trunk show!

About Diana P.
Diana Papazian of Papazian Jewelry Design is an accomplished artist and jewelry designer whose works are featured in specialty shops across Northern Virginia and online. Hailing originally from Armenia, Diana has been creating jewelry for hip Washingtonians since 2006. Her unique designs meld artistic whimsy with an eye for exquisite detail. Using such diverse materials as semiprecious gemstones, Austrian Swarovski(R) crystal, handmade glass beads, vintage flower clasps, and metals, she crafts one-of-a-kind pieces for a variety of occasions.

Her costume jewelry collection is one of the most popular at local boutiques while her bridal and fine jewelry pieces have adorned many of Washington's most stylish girls-about-town. She also produces custom designs for clients' specific needs.

Her work has received acclaim in the Washington Post Express and VivaLaModa online magazine. She has also been featured in various fashion/shopping blogs including
3PennyPrincess, Blog About All and Nothing at All, Sum Sunshine, and My Superfluities.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Calling All Washington, D.C. Area J.Crew Aficionadas... Pre-Fall Private Shopping Event!

AnneG and 3-Penny Princess cordially invite you to another exclusive J.Crew Aficionada shopping event - this time at J.Crew in Tysons Galleria on Sunday, August 23. Come preview the beautiful fall line arriving in the store and be the first to glimpse the fabulous new shoes and accessories. If the Fall lookbook is any indication of the gorgeous goodies to come, you won't want to miss this chance to check out the 2nd fall rollout - before anyone else!

The event starts at 10:00 AM and will end at noon. During this time, the store will be closed to the public so that we can enjoy uninterrupted shopping and personal attention from the store's associates.

The best part: receive 20% off a $125 purchase! This is your chance to load up on exciting new fall items before they run out while enjoying a discount.

J.Crew is located near Macy's on the lower level. Parking is free in the covered and open parking lots, but be sure to get there early before the rest of the mall shoppers! Although Tysons Galleria is not accessible by Metro, we can arrange transportation to and from the West Falls Church Metro station. We may also be able to pick up and drop off people at other area Metro stations. Please let us know if you plan to take Metro and will need a ride to and from the event.

After you've shopped till you dropped and worked up an appetite, we will have lunch at a nearby restaurant. The lunch location will be determined closer to the date.

Evites have been sent out, so be sure to check your email. Please RSVP for the event so we know how many people to expect. If you would like to join us but have not received an evite, please leave a comment here or email me at Your friends are welcome too, but please send me their names and email addresses so we can send them an evite.

Also, let us know if you're interested in having lunch afterwards in the Tysons area. We welcome suggestions for lunch venues, so feel free to leave comments or take the evite poll to give us your ideas.

We look forward to shopping with you on August 23rd!

~AnneG and 3-Penny Princess

Here are the event details:

Date: Sunday, August 23
Time: 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: J.Crew Tysons Galleria
Address: 2001 International Drive
McLean, VA 22102

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Getting Down to Business in Pencil Skirts, Shirts, and Heels

Sorry I've been away for a while! Work took over my life for a few weeks and left me little time for anything fun. But now I'm back and have lots to share. So let's get down to business - business fashion, that is.

I decided to overhaul my work wardrobe a bit. My new additions? Pencil skirts, button-down dress shirts, a sexy "power suit", new belts, a couple of bags, and some lovely new heels. Yes, you can say that I went a bit overboard. But somehow, I prefer to see it as an investment in my career (and therefore feel far less guilty). My husband did not quite agree and has now banned me from J.Crew and eBay, including blocking these sites from my computer... But back to the topic at hand.

Here are some of my new acquisitions:

And here are some of my older work essentials that I mixed them up with:

My hubby was working late one night, so I decided to use the time productively to put on a little fashion show with my new work clothes. I created several outfits to see how many I could mix and match with a few basic pieces. I apologize in advance for the poor photo quality - these were taken at night in front of a (dusty) mirror without a flash.

What do you think? Please comment on your likes, dislikes, and favorites in the photos that follow.

I love love love the Joley Tortoise Peep Toes! They are not only incredibly adorable, but they are also unbelievably comfortable! The patent leather is so soft and flexible (unlike many patent leathers from other brands), and though I attempted to injure it several times (accidentally) with the sharp point of my heel, it never scratched. I have the same good fortune with my Cate Patent Slingbacks (also shown) which are simply indestructible.

At first I wasn't sure if I could justify shelling out full price for yet another animal print-reminiscent pattern, having already acquired last year's Serengetti, the previous year's spotted cat calf-hair print, and this past fall's ocelot/snow leopard varieties (not to mention the zebra bangle, . But as soon as I saw the tortoise pattern on the Joleys, I fell in love instantly and wanted to wear them at once. There is definitely a difference in color shades between these and last year's Serengetti heels. The tortoise pattern has more yellow-orange pops, which makes them fun to pair with so much of the orange and yellow in my wardrobe. But I think they would also spice up a tan, chocolate, and black ensemble.

I liked the Joley Peep Toes so much in Tortoise, I ordered another pair in Ash, the medium gray color. They are a currently waitlisted in my size, but I should be receiving them in a couple of weeks. I hope they are just as comfy and tough as the Tortoise patent leather ones!

I was pleasantly surprised too at the luxuriousness of the Cotton-silk Poplin Perfect Shirt, which I also got in a beautiful print (see in later set). It's sheer and dressy looking, sort of like wearing silk shantung, but without all the weight. The fabric is very lightweight but not see-through, and it has enough sheen for interest but not so much that I felt like I was a glowing jack-o-lantern.

The Bronzed Twig color in the Double Serge was also a gamble. I finally jumped on the bandwagon and bought 2 Double Serge Cotton Pencil Skirts. I was hesitating between sizing up or going with my normal size, and I opted to size up to a 2P as I had for the Double Serge Wool Pencil Skirt from last fall. I counted on the fit being slimmer, and since I need to feel comfy and be able to tuck in a shirt, I wanted to have a little belly space rather than not be able to eat in the skirt. I was glad I did. With the hefty material of this cotton, I was glad to have a little breathing room.

I wasn't sure if it would come out like a mustard yellow or more of a camel - or even closer to an olive. So I took a chance and got it anyway, since I was already getting 2 dark neutral pencil skirts. I definitely liked it when it came out of the box, but I had a lot of trouble at first figuring out what tops to wear with it. I experimented with a few possibilities, including an old Persimmon dress shirt. I also liked the Serengetti belt with Cate Patent Slingback Heels in Twig (first outfit on left). What do you think - is this skirt a keeper?

Finally, I ordered the Cherry Blossom Necklace in Shadow as kind of an afterthought after having such huge success with the Deep Rose one. I thought it might be a nice deep gray accent with brighter colors. I was completely wrong about the Shadow color - it turned out to be a smoky topaz color instead. However, this proved to be even more auspicious because I was able to pair it with orange and persimmon plus my tigereye bracelet. I ended up putting it into quite a few outfits, and it looked really elegant but interesting.

Like the solid version, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the Cotton-silk Paisley Perfect Shirt in Soft Azalea. I had originally seen this print in stores and thought it was gorgeous, but I had only found a need for the shorts. However, when I was looking to expand my button-down dress short collection with new colors, I decided to give this a shot. I had mentioned in my last post that I didn't want to buy this shirt when I first saw it because I didn't need anything competing with my beloved Frances Ruffle Blouse in Cherry Blossom from last spring. But once I saw this shirt live next to my other wardrobe pieces, I realized that it had entirely different applications than the Cherry Blossom pattern.

I was also surprised at how much I liked this pattern with the Bronzed Twig pencil skirt. It was almost as if the two were meant to be worn together. The paisley pattern channels a warmer, more tropical vibe, but the sheer silky texture of the cotton-silk keeps it refined. It would be perfect under a beige/camel suit as well as on its own with neutrals. I also found that the Cherry Blossom Necklace in Shadow was a good contrast with this pattern but didn't compete with it. What do you think?

I had been desperately seeking a navy pencil skirt. Navy is my black, so I can't get enough of it in my wardrobe. Though I had an old chalk-stripe pencil skirt, it was pretty tight in a OP and I always winced at the thought of wearing it for long periods of time. I had also been looking for something to pair with my Slim Stretch Shirt in Rhubarb (other than jeans) that I had bought a while back. I wanted to look fresh yet sophisticated but avoid wearing it with black.

Now, I had already acquired the Stretch Sateen Pencil Skirt in Navy, but I wasn't satisfied at making it my primary navy dress skirt. Although it was super-stretchy and thus exceptionally comfortable to wear all day, the sateen attracted an awful lot of lint wherever it went. The other issue was the inability to wear it with a belt. While I loved the button tab detail on the front-sides, the buttons stuck and made it impossible to wrap a belt over the waistband. For some reason, I feel naked without a belt when tucking in a shirt. So I went on the hunt for another navy pencil skirt.

I mulled over several options before ordering the Summer Linen Pencil Skirt in Navy. I was hesitant to order this one because it was on final sale and I had never tried it in the store. The sizing was my biggest issue, since I had not found many pencil skirts from recent seasons (other than the double serge ones) to fit true to size. I found myself swimming in a 0 in such skirts as the Watercolor Pencil Skirt and the adorable cotton pencil skirt with a bow (don't remember the name) which was made of the same material as the Double Serge Cotton skirts but didn't fit the same. But after investigating exact hemlines and surveying a few people about fits, I took a chance on the Summer Linen Pencil Skirt in a 0.

It fit perfectly! Not too tight, but no unwanted gapping either (see left and right outfits above). It felt pretty nice on - not as heavy as the Double Serge Cotton. I liked the very subtle linen weave but figured it would still be easy to mix with a navy jacket of a different material if I wanted to wear it as part of a skirt suit. I also liked that the fit was more like a pencil skirt should be - longer and slimmer.

In addition to the linen skirt, I ordered the Double Serge Cotton Pencil Skirt in Dark Slate thinking it might be a nice alternative to black and navy. I also wanted to test the skirt with some other piece that weren't getting enough love. I wanted to see how it would work with not only rhubarb but mint and light aqua elements in my closet. Like the Bronzed Twig skirt, I sized up in the Dark Slate to a 2P and felt fine in it. The one thing that bugged me about the Double Serge Pencil Skirts in cotton and wool was that they looked shorter on my in the petite fit. Granted, that's why people order petite, but I thought that maybe it was hemmed a little too low for how I had wanted it to fit and wondered it maybe I should have opted for a regular 0. What do you think - is the fit of the Double Serge Cotton Pencil Skirt good on me compared to the Summer Linen Pencil Skirt (see middle outfit above)?

The Classic Leather Belt in Stone - another afterthought - turned out to be quite a versatile piece. The Stone color is a medium neutral gray. I had also ordered the Skinny Leather Belt in Metallic Silver, since I couldn't stop wearing the Metallic Gold one, and I needed something to pull together cooler shades and silver-toned accessories. But as soon as I put on the Classic Leather Belt in Stone, I realized that it was even more versatile than the Skinny Leather Belt in Metallic Silver. For one, it could be work with both silver and gold accessories (which I hadn't really planned on needing with a gray belt). But the other genius of this color was that it paired well with gray-patterned shoes and a gray Kate Spade work tote that I already owned but was having trouble bringing into my ensembles. The Stone leather belt looked fresh on anything I tried with it and was the ideal accessory for pulling together my gray bag and shoes.

Next up: The The Double Serge Cotton Pencil Skirt in Dark Slate, the Summer Linen Pencil Skirt in Navy, and the Classic Leather Belt in Stone go to work with a turquoise button-down shirt and a sage-charcoal-mint-olive color scheme.

I bought this silk sleeveless top from Ann Taylor some years back but it hadn't gotten much use. I was about to give it away when, this past spring, it found new life next to Ecru and light aqua pieces that I had picked up. I was quite happy to see that this top paired nicely with the Dark Slate skirt too. And, I found a new use for my charcoal beaded flower-clasp necklace that I had picked up in the winter at the J.Crew outlet (middle outfit) - it was a great accent with the Dark Slate pencil skirt.

I was also delighted to see how well the Stone belt picked up the gray in my favorite summer shoes - the Cinema T-Strap Sandals in Metallic Stone (left outfit). It will also go perfectly with my Joley Peep Toe Heels in Ash when I want to wear more professional but open-toed shoes.

Any thoughts on wearing the grosgrain belt - both the turquoise above (right outfit) and the red multicolored one in the previous set?

Finally, spiffing up the basic white shirt and class navy skirt combo.

I had snapped up some amazing shoe bargains over the past 6 months, including: Delman Aloha suede peep toe slingback heels in a rhubarb-tea rose (left outfit) for $15 at Marshalls, Bruno Magli slate and marine suede peep toe slingback heels for $35 at Marshalls (center outfit), and Kate Spade platinum gold leather peep toe sandal heels for $39 at TJ Maxx (right outfit). I had also collected some cute cheap jewelry pieces: Target coral-toned flower clasp necklace for $13 with Talbots pink/orange/berry cuff for $8 (left); TJ Maxx turquoise/lime/green triple-strand necklace for $29 with gold turquoise cabochon flower embellished cuff for $20. I decorated a classic white short sleeved button-down shirt and the navy Summer Linen Pencil Skirt.

Hopefully to come in the future: me in the sexy "power suit" and a new Tory Burch dress I got in May and wore to a business function a few weeks ago.

Please share your thoughts on these outfits and sorry again for the low quality! Maybe they'll be easier to see if you click on the photo to see it in full view.