Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The "You Made My Day" Award Goes to...

The daily allotment of one's household mail can be grouped largely into 3 categories: that which is tossed immediately (the interminable avalanche of junk mail), that which you'd like to toss but can't (those damned bills), and that which is opened immediately but in retrospect was better off tossed (ie. a coupon from a certain store).

It is with ever-diminishing frequency that the mail brings some form of good tidings from someone you actually want to hear from, with thoughts or contents directed solely to you, and that was personally penned by a human being. When this rare confluence of events occurs, the angels are heard singing in heaven.
It was with such beneficence that the gods looked down on me recently. A certain Ms. Amy, a lovely Aficionada from New York, made my day not once but twice -- the first time about 7 weeks ago and the second time on this very day. For what should emerge from my drab mailbox but a present picked out just for me, completely free of charge.

This thoughtful, generous, and may I say elegant Aficionada found me through Slastena's blog, and a dialogue developed between us about items on our respective wish lists. Both being 0-2 petites and thus in the same boat when it comes to tracking down J.Crew finds in our sizes, we quickly began to look out for each other on the sale racks and the Great Weekly Exchange. This, of course, is a spirit embodied by many a kind Aficionada, as evidenced by numerous helpful tips about where to find various pieces and even going so far as to place merchandise on hold for each other.

This particular Aficionada took the helpful spirit a step further. She read my blog posts, remembered which colors I love, and contacted me when she had items to spare in my favorite colors. But wait, there's more. She went out of her way to mail me a sweet little package with a brand new, never worn item, completely gratis! She wouldn't even let me pay for shipping, bless her heart. Not once, but twice, mind you. And with the cutest little floral-embossed notecard, handwritten by none other than her.

The first present she sent me was a sunny pair of Favorite Fit Vintage Bootcut Cords in Golden Yellow, perfectly sized for me. This was such a nice surprise, as I had always wanted to try a bright colored pant but never really went for it. When the time came to allocate my sparse dollars on fall clothing, I had never been able to justify Golden Yellow when I always need chocolate, vanilla, or charcoal. But boy, am I glad to have those yellow cords now! They added such zest to my wardrobe.

Here are some Polyvore sets I created and successfully tested with the cords:

Then, today, on a truly dismal, cold, and rainy day - when I am once again left alone in the house after a long holiday weekend - what better pick me up could have arrived than a sparkling confection of a Joie de Vivre Rose Balm "Candy" Tee in the most luscious shade of Cerise? Incredibly, though I purchased several of these as Christmas gifts, I never once saw this color in the stores. Had I, it's entirely possible that I may have sprung for one. But I abstained, instead doling them out to contented friends and family like, well, candy. So imagine how overcome with awe I was to unwrap a mouthwatering little treat in today's mail and behold the sparkles that adorned it? I couldn't wait to put it on immediately, and it instantly lifted my mood for the second half of the day.

You cannot fully appreciate how amazing this tee looks on me, especially when paired with my beloved Cerise cardi from fall. The color alone makes me glow, and the size could not have been better planned. I've already set to work creating Polyvore sets with it:

Therefore, I'd like to bestow upon Ms. Amy a "You Made My Day" Award. Thank you for making my day not once but twice!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Celebrating of the (Unofficial) Start of Summer: A Review of 3 J.Crew Strappy Heeled Sandals

I had been stalking the Cinema T-strap Chunky Heel Sandals since they came out. My mission: to find a pair of summery, light-colored sandals that could pick up a lot of the pinks, fuchsias, yellows, aquas, and blues that I tend to wear in the warmer months. I also wanted shoes that would look good with gray and silver pieces in my wardrobe. Plus, they had to be comfortable and city-proof, so no sharp stiletto heels or light-colored satin confections. The heel I sought had to be higher than 2.5 inches but no more than 3 so I wouldn’t be teetering around painfully during the outdoorsy summer months. The Cinema T-strap Chunky Heel Sandals in Metallic Stone fit the bill perfectly, with one small problem: the almost $200 price tag. Out of principle, I balked at paying anything more than $100 for a pair of sandals. However, visiting them daily on the website was starting to wear down my willpower (imagine that), so I made a mental decision to just bite the bullet and stop torturing myself already.

Armed with the justification that they would likely work with half of my wardrobe and embodied everything that I was looking for in a summer shoe made me feel slightly less guilty. I prepared myself mentally to take the plunge and plunk down the $200, knowing that waiting for them to go on sale would probably mean kissing them goodbye. I knew better than to wait too long – it’s darned near impossible to find my size as it is, let alone to risk waiting for the rare shoe that is made in my size (usually 5 in peep toe pumps or sandals, and 5.5 in closed-toed heels). I had learned this the hard way by missing one after another gorgeous heels in past seasons, most of which I could never find again on eBay in my size. So, I took a deep breath and approached my online cart, which had been ready and waiting for a couple of weeks.

Then, a sign came from above: the 20% Private Sale email arrived. I rejoiced vastly, for this was truly an auspicious omen. Regrettably, it took me no more than 5 minutes to decide that this was also a good opportunity to test out a couple of other sandals that I had been eyeing.

I had taken a liking as well to the Kendra Patent T-strap sandals, which looked so delicate and graceful, yet stood on a sturdy 3-inch heel. Magazines and J.Crew associates had been urging me in recent months to try a nude shoe on the premise that it could elongate my leg. Not one to pass up any feature that might make my 5-foot frame look taller and my legs look longer, I finally heeded their advice. I picked out the Kendra in a nice nude Champagne, which not only came in a 5.5 but also instructed shoppers to “order a half-size up.” This made my chances of fitting into them even more likely. Besides, I rationalized, Champagne was the ultimate neutral. Furthermore, the price of $168 wasn’t as hard to swallow with an additional 20% discount.

As an afterthought (and not wanting to waste a precious opportunity to not only get my size but try on a bunch of shoes before the dread Final Sale hit), I decided to take a chance on one more shoe: the Carina Metallic T-strap heels in Metallic Gold, the Kendra’s more glittery sisters. In addition to a shoe that worked with all of the aforementioned shades, I had also been searching for a new pair of gold heels for quite some time. My sandals from previous years, though lovely, were starting to wear out, and in addition, they were purchased more for special occasions than for everyday use. Thus, the heels were not suited for frequent walks along the broken bricks and the cobblestone streets that I call home. In the past, it didn’t matter much, because I didn’t wear as much metal in the way of accessories. But now, thanks to copious baubles and metallic accessories that flooded in over the past several seasons, I now was no longer afraid to be a gilded lady.

The other issue with my older metallics was, well, with the metal. You see, platinum had been my bling of choice for as long as I can remember. This had aligned perfectly with previous incarnations of metallic heels such as the Lucie, Twyla, and Savoy. Then, somewhere between the deluge of golden yellows and an outpouring of gold jewelry into every store, platinum was simply not sunny enough anymore. I needed warm, glowing, and unapologetically yellow gold.

Armed with my discount, I placed an order for all 3 pairs of sandals. The days that followed were filled with restless anticipation. To channel my energy into something productive, I once again performed a clean-out of my closet, this time reaching deep beneath the guest bed to pull out several old pairs of shoes that I had been reluctant to part with. They had, after all, served me faithfully all these years, but now they had all lost their allure for one reason or another.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before the giant box of goodies arrived (the benefit of living 3 hours from Lynchburg). After tearing it open and unleashing the plastic box straps without cutting my fingers (always a potential hazard in my haste), I unearthed the pricey specimens.

I pounced on the Cinema T-strap Chunky Heel Sandals in Metallic Stone right away. Let me sum up these shoes in 3 words: Work of Art. The design, while understated, is unique and striking. The skilled interplay of cream and silver patent leather with light pewter suede is nothing short of exquisite. They exude sophistication and refinement but still manage to channel a light and summery mood. The mix of colors also makes them highly versatile, which is a huge boon for when you're traveling and can only take one pair of shoes. They’ll be perfect with my ivory skirts, lemony summer sweaters, and all the aqua I plan to acquire this season. I am also looking forward to wearing them on a slightly overcast day when I’m feeling a little cooler-toned but the temperature is warm. I think they will look fabulous with my Nicky Skirt in Dark Fog paired with a Fuschia sweater, or my Cherry Blossom Frances Blouse (from last spring) over metallic linen shorts. They also add a touch of ingénue to jeans and navy suit pants.

Although they are called “chunky-heel sandals,” I definitely didn’t feel that the heel was too chunky. Instead, the heel is reassuringly sturdy and just wide enough to walk in the city, as I had hoped. But it’s still plenty polished and graceful to wear as a dress sandal. As soon as I slid my food in and tightened the ankle strap, I felt a wonderful comfort and support in the footbed. The toe straps, though numerous, were exceptionally smooth and didn’t cut one bit into my feet (unlike many prior strappy and cutout varieties). They weren’t too tight, either, but just right. I felt that my foot was securely in place but could still breathe without problems. I wanted to walk right out of the house at once and stroll through town. But alas, I had more shoes to try on, so that would have to wait.

Next, I tested the Kendra Patent T-strap sandals in Champagne. First, let me point out what these shoes are not: clodhopping, in-your-face gladiator sandals with lots of strappage and wide chunky heels like so many varieties of this season. Instead these are beautifully rendered, elegant sandals that can be worn with a summer suit, party frock, or your favorite lived-in shorts. The thin patent strips are designed to highlight less shoe, more foot – great if the point is to elongate your leg with a nice neutral. The Champagne color is truly a wear forever-and-with-everything shade. It doesn’t have any really tinge of brown, yet, it’s not cream either. It’s sort of the color of a café au lait if you like it how I like it – with lots of milk and a splash of coffee. The champagne patent leather in the Kendra sandals is basically the same shade and sheen as the Belle Clutch in Pebble (which looked a whole lot more white online than in person). The heel is classic wood, and not really that wide, either (I think my photo makes it look wider). It’s just ample enough to avoid getting caught in cracks and grates – not to mention moist perpetually rain-soaked grass – but still refined enough to wear with your fluttery skirts and gauzy dress. It won’t compete with your gold, but it won’t look dull with your silver, either. If you wear a lot of deep, vibrant colors, this could be just the thing to balance your ensembles. I put them aside for serious consideration.

Finally, I opened the Carina Metallic T-strap heels in Metallic Gold. As soon as I unwrapped them and beheld their beauty, it was love at first sight. If I liked the Kendra sandals in Champagne, I was instantly enamored by the Carina sandals in Metallic Gold. The are such a stunning, radiant shade of gold that they actually warmed up my skin, especially my very pale feet, which never adequately receive the rays of the sun. The slightly crackly finish on the leather – which on earlier, more substantial shoes seemed a bit too much – looked unique and eye-catching on the delicately-strapped Carinas. The color and the finish sets them apart for the hundreds of metallic shoes available now. The heel is exactly the same as in the Kendra, and with the super-gold body of the Carina, the wooden heel works to de-evening (just made up that word) them a bit.

The one fatal flaw in both the Kendra and Carina, however, is the single front strap that holds your toes in. Let me back up by saying that I have slightly wide feet, so a lot of shoes are a little tight on me. Unfortunately, the front strap in the Kendra was connected so low to the footbed that it left barely any space to slide my foot under it. While this is theoretically practical to keep your foot from sliding around given the barely-there nature of these sandals, it proved to be much too tight for me. When I managed to slide my foot completely in, my toes felt like they were being strangled. I couldn’t even walk around to test them out.

On a positive note, I loved how, unlike similar sandals I had tried, these have an adjustable ankle strap as well as main long center strap that linked the ankle strap to your toe strap. These are looped through and can be rotated in case you want to slide the buckle way off to the side or even wear it in the back, in addition to a buckle that you can tighten around your ankle. You can also slide the main long center strap to the right or to the left of both your toe strap and ankle strap. This did help a little as I found that sliding the long center strap slightly in the direction of my smaller toes (see close-up photo and please pardon my overdue pedicure) helped the toe strap to give a little. As far as the size, I felt that these two models definitely run a bit small, maybe about 1/2 a size.

Against my better judgment, I simply couldn’t resist the siren call of the gorgeously gilded Carina, so I put them immediately and decided to take them for a spin. I paired them with the Limoncello Mini, Corinne Sweater Jacket in Deep Yellow (from last summer)over a Natural Perfect-fit Tank, plus a few gold-toned accents including the Scattered Boule Necklace and the Sunburst Medallion Cuff.

As predicted, the heel itself was very comfortable to walk in, and the footbed itself was quite supportive. But my poor toes cried out in pain for much of the time. They bore deep grooves (not quite welts) after wearing them for half the day. But what sweet agony it was, as I was showered with compliments.

The Carinas held their own amidst the bright Corinne and attention-grabbing Limoncello print. I didn’t even have to announce that I got new shoes; people just noticed instantly (but in a good way). I knew that I would reach for these often. But what to do about the pain? My only hope was something I read today on Patina Cabachon’s blog about some kind of shoe stretcher from QVC that she used for her Paige metallic heels (hmmm, is this a trend with J.Crew sandals?). Is this thing real, and how does it work? Anyway, I will not give up on my dazzling Carina heels.

All 3 sandals displayed signs of excellent craftsmanship and high-quality materials. They also seemed to have some kind of cushioned insole in the footbed, which is always a bonus. The Cinema T-strap sandals were more true to size in my opinion, while the Kendra and Carina T-strap sandals were a little smaller and tigher.

Let’s put it this way: if I were only going to buy only one pair of shoes to wear for the summer (and also in spring and fall), the Kendra Patent T-strap sandals in Champagne are hands down the most multi-functional. Between the ideal design, utterly perfect neutral-but-not-blah shade, and reasonable (for J.Crew) price, they could probably pull together every item in your wardrobe and work with every gleam of metal in your accessory collection. I did not, however, feel that the Kendra sandals were needed, as I had already embraced the Cinema heels in Metallic Stone for cooler shades and pastels, and the Carina heels in Metallic Gold for warmer and richer hues. It’s not that the Kendras in Champagne weren’t lovely and endlessly practical, it’s just that my heart would always lean toward one of the others. And since I couldn’t possibly justify keeping all 3 pairs (even after the 20% discount), I boxed up the Kendra sandals and took them back to the store.

Post Script:
As I finish writing this, I noticed that the Cinema T-strap Chunky Heel Sandals are completely gone in Metallic Stone online. I also saw the Carina Metallic T-strap heels are no longer available in a size 5.5 in any color. Sorry for those who are inspired by this review! If you still want them, I hope J.Crew can do a “we will find it” for you. As for me, I have certainly learned my lesson when it comes to J.Crew shoes in my size: you snooze, you lose.

Enjoy the holiday weekend, and happy (almost) summer!

Today I took the Cinema T-Strap Heel Sandals out for a few hours after my hubby came home from work. I tell you, if ever there was a pair of shoes to plan an outfit around, these were them. I deliberated for a while before trying them with an old ivory Wendy-like a-line skirt, magenta ruffled halter top, and the Georgia cardigan in Weathered Stone. After testing several accessories, I finally settled on the Skinny Mirror Metallic Belt and, surprisingly, the Sunburst Medallion Cuff again. When I first put on the shoes, I felt a slight twinge of concern as my toes rubbed little and my foot got stuck too low down. But then, after walking around a little, they seemed to mold to my feet fine and felt fine.

As soon as I put on the sandals, all of a sudden I was transported back to the 1940s and felt tragically chic. I started humming some Sarah Vaughan tune. My husband was perplexed and asked what I was singing, but I didn't want to give away my secret (or point out that I had bought new shoes).

We hit a few stores to run errands and to pick up food to cook over the weekend. While driving and walking in and out of the parking lot with bags in my hands, I almost felt like I was wearing wedges because the stacked heels were so comfortable. It was actually quite refreshing to not wear stilettos for a change. The insole also felt cushioned and provided good support. Although my toes stayed snug inside the front straps, they didn't hurt or chafe.

I had initially worried that the cream colored front strap and heel cover would scratch and get dirty easily. While it's much too early to tell, I will say that, during our trip to the grocery store, I sustained 2 separate mini foot injuries while walking. Once I stumbled into a metal stand that was partially hidden on the bottom when I went to gather fresh corn and stubbed my toe. I felt the impact on my shoe and looked to see if it scuffed, but it was fine. Then, after walking out of the store, my dear husband ran over my toe with the full shopping cart. I jumped and cried out some clean version of a profanity while I hopped on one foot. A nice gentleman actually came over and asked if I was okay, and I assured him that I was fine. He insisted that my hubby didn't mean to do it, to which my DH responded (jokingly of course), "No, I meant to run over her ankle but I missed." When the pain subsided and I was able to examine both my toe and the shoe, I was pleasantly surprised that neither had suffered any visible damage. I had expected there to be a big crinkle in the patent leather strap and at least a black mark on the white part, but no such thing was to be found. I silently applauded the excellent craftsmanship and quality of materials.

After we made it home (with no further delays), I set to work right away preparing dinner. Too rushed to change, I kept the Cinema sandals on and donned an apron to cover my clothes. Amazingly, I continued to walk and stand in comfort as I hurried about slicing, dicing, and cooking up various dishes.

The best part? When we had visited our favorite bakery, the woman who works there -- who naturally knows us as we're regulars -- complimented my outfit and told me that I always looked like Sarah Jessica Parker. Assuming she was referring to the famous Carrie outfits from S.I.T.C. (I didn't have the heart to tell her I had only watched about 2 episodes, both times while at friends' houses), I thanked her graciously.

I'm so glad I got these - they are not only smashing but also highly practical and comfy. I can't wait to try more ensembles with them!
Update #2:
A huge thank you to Slastena who pointed out that she saw the Cinema T-strap Chunky Heel Sandals on sale today for $99.99. Curious, I went back to the website and, guess what, they were not sold out in Metallic Stone at all! They were, in fact, in the sale section. Even crazier, my size was still available. I immediately got on the phone with customer service to get a price adjustment. They did not only that (as I was within my 7 day timeline), but they let me take an additional 20% off the shoes! How cool is that? So I got these amazing sandals for just $80! It looks like sizes 5.5 through 10 are still available, so if you want 'em, now's the time to get 'em. I of course highly recommend these darlings.
On that note, have an awesome and restful Memorial Day weekend, and try not to shop too much!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Recap & Photos of Aficionada Spring Tea and Jewelry in the Garden

Breezy sunshine and fragrant flora of all varieties finally delighted Washingtonians following a determined spell of heavy rains that plagued the region for what seemed like weeks. Fortunately, the showers and ominous clouds gave way just long enough today to enjoy a gorgeous afternoon outisde enjoying tea, sweets, and the company of friends in the garden. The brilliant blossoms came alive everywhere when embraced by the sun's welcome rays.

But the real flowers to behold were the J.Crew Aficionadas, who gathered on this gem of a sunny spring day to partake in the elegant tradition of Afternoon Tea. We swapped adventures about shopping, tales at home, and of course scintillating gossip about goings on around town -- all the while savoring champagne and canapes followed by finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries with assorted teas.

The 14 ladies were bedecked in bright spring motifs and floaty dresses, and adorned with sparkling baubles. Heidi G. allured in her refined Bouquet Cardigan topping the quintessentially chic little black shift dress. Slastena fluttered in debuting the ethereal Tiered Linen Playa dress in papaya. Not to be outdone, Drewablank stunned everyone in the new Watercolor Floral Pencil Skirt paired with a Lydia Blouse and Cate Slingbacks in matching seashell. Rosa channeled Audrey Hepburn in a delicate eyelet dress topped with a smart navy Jackie cardigan, while Summer looked ravishing in the new cotton poplin Ruffle-Top Tie Dress in a sultry dark olive (in stores now). It was Mediterranean-meets-Virginia prep for Dinagideon as she continued the Fresco fabulosity in an olive Bria Cami and pink Chinos finished with matching Printed Ballet Flats. Nancy breezed in with an invigorating Silk-Linen V-Neck Sweater in fresh mint paired with Cocktail Capris and striking Magdalene Heels. Kelly picked up the nautical theme in a classic navy knit dress topped with a crisp white jacket, while Diana P. continued the beachy vibe in the navy Printed Coastal Tunic. Finally, Cloggsy and Stephanie opted for cool, billowy white, with Cloggsy flaunting a cheery full skirt in rhubarb.

Equally dazzling was the exquisite jewelry created by the talented Diana P. as she unveiled her Spring-Summer collection. Floral details were abloom in several pieces, as were tropical shades of yellow, orange, aqua, and lime. Devotees and new fans alike took advantage of the swell discount as they scooped up freshest must-wear pieces, no doubt anticipating the receipt of many compliments on their unique finds.

The icing on the teacakes were the surprise favors for all the guests, courtesy of Richmond Aficionada Cloggsy. The artistic Ms. Cloggsy, who owns the deliciously addictive English Tea Paperie, thoughtfully made each guest a set of their very of personalized notecards, complete with their names and teacup embellishments. Thank you, Cloggsy! What a lovely gift to take home, and what a gracious gesture.

Thanks to all the Aficionadas who made this the loveliest of afternoons. I hope you enjoyed this (rare) sunny day in May, and I can't wait to see you next month! Also, check out Slastena's, Cloggsy's, Summerilla's, Heidi's and Dinagideon's posts for more tidbits and photos. Here are the rest of my pictures: