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Aesthetics

Day 701 and Frozen Goods

My Black Friday purchases are slowly making their way from warehouses in Denver or St Louis or other parts unknown to me in Montana. When I placed the orders I was so excited for the good deals.

But instead I’m just finding new disappointments. Four out of six items I ordered from Splendid will have to be returned. A pair of pants from Lunya is simply made for someone taller than me. And the remaining pieces of the order from Nadaam still hasn’t shipped yet. I hope my new negligees from Skims don’t disappoint as my track record on soft goods isn’t looking so great. Failures all around.

I’ve also had a few issues with trying to order cosmetics. I do a big order with Briogeo once a year. It’s in transit during a very chilly day. It was 10 degrees when I woke up. And I’ll admit I’m concerned about receiving a complete frozen bottle of shampoo. And it is expensive shampoo too.

We’ve had this issue before. Ipsy and Allure monthly boxes show up half frozen in the mailbox for a day. A Sephora order went straight to our mailbox where it sat for two hours before I got the alert it has arrived. It was cold but not fully frozen. I am afraid to look up how much efficacy is lost if retinol is frozen. What about vitamin C? How bad is it to freeze your cosmetics?

Because we live out on country roads and outside the town limits, we find our packages are often delivered by men in pickup trucks doing piece work contracts. They are nice folks but there isn’t much they can do about an expensive skin cream freezing solid in their open pickup truck bed. I would try to buy things in person but we don’t have a Sephora here so that catalog order life remains how people get stuff in rural America.

I used to have concerns about melting cosmetics when I was in Colorado. So perhaps freezing is an improvement. But I’m definitely wondering if we will need climate controlled options for certain kinds of deliveries in future for items that need a moderate temperature band. It could be a brand issue to have your product not work because the chemical bonds got wrecked by extreme weather. And we are all about to get more extreme weather as a normal feature of daily life.

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Aesthetics

Day 694 and Buy Everything Day

When I was a hippie kid growing up in Colorado I was a fervent believer in a “holiday” called Buy Nothing Day. It was a campaign heavily promoted by a magazine called Adbusters which saw itself a culture jamming organization.

It felt cool and hip and maybe even a bit new to protest excess consumption in the era when globalization hadn’t yet experienced the bitch slap that are the last twenty years of history not actually ending. Teenagers are obviously a bit prone to over simplifying the world and I was no exception.

Now as a jaded veteran of the retail and luxury wars, I think it was the height of white girl naïveté that not shopping one day of the year meant shit. Now I pile all of my shopping into Black Friday. Instead of it being “Buy Nothing Day” it has become “Buy Everything Day” for me. I know how much brands are riding on my choosing to spend and I hold out the bulk of my shopping to extract maximum value.

I bought 2 tee shirts, one cardigan, 3 cashmere sweaters, one pair of silk pants, one cotton robe, 2 slips, 2 bras, and 3 pairs of tights. I bought a jumbo size shampoo and conditioner as well as travel sets. I also bought a luxury face cream, highlighter and other sundry cosmetics even though most of the cosmetics I prefer aren’t even on sale today. We also bought 4 scented candles for the house. Alex bought a pair of Chelsea boots, a new gun safe and a hunting jacket. In other words, we shopped till we dropped. We went full American on the day.

We’d hoped to buy new dishes and a few pieces of furniture as this has also been the year of outfitting the house but alas we just couldn’t figure out enough deals ahead of time. Black Friday is often a mess of confusing offers and marketing bullshit. It’s been made dramatically worse by the wave of direct to consumer brands who claim to give you better deals but often do little more than obfuscate where you are getting ripped off. It’s lowering trust by insisting that you are getting something better when you know you are not.

It’s with that knowledge in mind that I’ve come to terms with the reality of American consumption. I’ve come full circle on Buy Nothing Day. I recognize that shopping is the full contact sport that drives everything else around us. And so long as I’m embedded in that system it serves little purpose to be obstinate or contrary. But equally it serves no purpose to be taken advantage of by these brands either. Getting a deal is a very American kind of battle I’d rather win. As of yet there is no option to remain off the battlefield. But one day it may be gone for good. Until then I’ll buy my cashmere in discount.

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Aesthetics

Day 691 and Ready to Shop

For well over a decade I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I was one of the “ lucky” few for whom Black Friday is the most important day of year. I did time in the trenches of retail.

When I worked in fashion and then later cosmetics, Black Friday was the all consuming event that dictated whether your year was a success or a failure. I slept in my office more than once. I pulled all nighters. And that barely scratches the surface of the long hours leading up to the main event. Having a good Black Friday is a make or break affair for brands and retailers.

I love shopping. A well executed customer experience is one of America’s crowning achievements. A beautifully merchandised store (in real life or online) that has exactly what you want along with everything you didn’t know you wanted too, is one of the great joys of civilization.

One of the downsides of knowing retailers’ rhythms intimately is that it changes how you shop. Now that I no longer work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday I am able to participate as a customer. But I know too much. I know pricing, discounting and if SKU counts are bloated or constrained. I can sense how deep a sale will go with a glance at merchandising and a quick perusal of the last 10-K. Shopping is now an exercise in arithmetic.

And this year is shaping up to be the best Black Friday since before the pandemic. For the last two years brands have struggled to keep items in stock due to supply chain crunches and pandemic era labor shortages. But this year they did not want to be caught flat footed. At the height of the stimulus that placed deep orders. Optimism has returned.

But now interest rates are rising to combat the inflationary pressures that has loomed over an economy demanding to buy more just months ago. But now no one is so sure about spending. Prices have risen. Layoffs are spooking folks. And it sure seems like brands and retailers bought way too much for the current mode of America.

I’m planning on buying quite a bit as the discounts will be steep, the inventory is available, and I don’t like to shop unless I’m getting what I want at a price I like. We will be focused on clothing and footwear as well as basics like good wool socks. We also have a few electronic gadgets we’ve been waiting to buy including a humidifier and a chain saw. I’m also hoping for a few surprises from cosmetics retailers as well. It is hunting season.

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Aesthetics Startups

Day 659 and E-commerce Returns

It’s been a minute since I posted about the mild annoyances of shopping to outfit a new house. Because we have upgraded the amount of space we live in by two or three times and we are hoping to use some of the space for hospitality we’ve bought a lot of shit recently.

I have shopped a large assortment of direct to consumer retail brands. Included in the list is Brooklinen, Havenly, Italic and Merit in the last month or so. And the varied state of quality and service in the venture funded retail space is such a mixed bag. The most pleasant experiences have been from older brands and retailers like Carharrt, Ariat and Sephora.

I would entirely recommend Havenly as an intermediary service for both design and furniture shopping as the returns are relatively simple and they consolidate a ton of retailers into the interface. But they are so good at their jobs you mostly don’t need to return stuff. We bought a cheap fake antler chandelier to see if it could be pulled off (against the advice of the designer) and were promptly told by everyone to return it. Which lets be honest was good advice all around. We did have to dismantle it which I’m told was quite the IKEA style effort.

A fake antler chandelier acquired from Wayfare. It was still $500 so we returned it.

I cannot say I have the same praise for direct to consumer brands that are still attempting to make margins happen in the middle market. I’ve had some amusing fails on that front and it again reminds me of the danger consumers are beginning to feel when they shop brands with less social awareness. This is a real issue for direct to consumer brands as they fight it out with less venture dollars compared to the past. It’s going to hurt their lifetime customer values.

Merit is a much covered cosmetics brand which has some star products I liked (their foundation is terrific) but some really low rent packaging. So I wanted to return a couple items. Merit made returns so challenging I might just eat the cost of half the products that I don’t want to use. Merit’s customer care team literally wanted me to write reviews of each product I wanted to return to begin the process. Damn girl but ain’t nobody has time for that.

An assortment of Merit Cosmetics including foundation, blush, mascara and a brush. I wanted to return about half of them for being a poor value.

Ironically I had already done that on their Yotpo product review prompts a week earlier but didn’t save them (why would I) so when it came time for returns I just said fuck it as I didn’t want to retype my 500 word a piece reviews again just to return the items. It’s been sitting in my inbox for so long I’m afraid they won’t accept it. A huge and amusing fail to integrate basic customer retention tactics and your order options. I expect it will hit their lifetime customer value and require a fix soon. I literally haven’t overcome the inertia just to get my $70 back and perhaps they know that. Which is a dick move.

By far the most clever return mechanic I’ve seen is from Italic. I’ve loved their cashmere and their sheets but some of their other odds and ends were just bad fits. And it turns out they know it. They offered a 50% store credit on an item if I just gave it to a friend. Alas it is a dress that doesn’t work if you have breasts. Which is clearly a challenge to hand off to anyone.

Text messages between Alex and I about returning a dress from Italic that does not fit my upper body

The other irritant that Italic had though is that it shipped in four separate orders and insisted that we ship it back in four separate orders which is wildly wasteful even by e-commerce standards. And it has the unexpected effect of me accidentally returning a pair of cashmere pants I didn’t even try on as I forgot I bought two different cuts and ended up returning both as they came in separate orders over the space of a week. Oops! That’s $150 they won’t get from me. I frantically texted my Alex asking if he had them still but nope I might try to rebuy them but now I don’t trust I’ll be able to even figure it out.

Shopping is going to get extremely weird over this holiday season as brands have significant depths to overcome come past supply chain issues. But as the economy struggles with inflation I’d expect to see more tricks like Merit on the negative end and clever loyalty gambits like Italic on the positive. So keep that in mind as Black Friday approaches.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 646 and Birthday Shopping

My birthday is next Tuesday and I’ve been using it as an excuse to browse my favorite cosmetic and clothing websites. I should treat myself right? No gift is better than what you select for yourself. Plus, I love a free gift with purchase. A birthday is often the anchor of any decent loyalty program so I’m justifying this as an exploration of current merchandising trends.

Sephora in particular has dedicated itself to a Birthday Gift franchise that women obsess over all year. If you are part of their loyalty program called Beauty Insider or Very Important Beauty (VIB if you spend $350) you get to chose a gift during your birthday month. There are a lot of other perks in the program but the birthday gift doesn’t require spending any of your hard earned rewards points and it’s free to join.

Sephora’s Loyalty Program Birthday Gift Options for 2022 for VIB & VIB Rouge included Laura Mercier, Tatcha, Amika, NEST & Olaplex

It’s a big deal for the brands to be selected as one of the gifts for the year by Sephora as it’s a great way to get sampling and visibility for twelve straight months. Plus Sephora kicks in on some of the hard costs. It’s one of the better gauges in the cosmetics industry of who is up and coming and desirable, but also has enough cachet that it drives desire around the program.

They generally offer one color cosmetic, one skincare brand, one haircare brand and a fragrance but it can be a bit mix and match depending on what trends are in the industry overall. And they offer up slightly fancier rewards for the $350 and $1000 spending tiers.

This year haircare brand Olaplex was so popular as a VIB gift that only January birthdays got the gifts causing some angst. That slicked back clean girl aesthetic bun TikTok wave and the brand’s IPO last year might have been too much demand for it to be a part of a loyalty program that is intensely scrutinized.

I have actually never used Olaplex as I’ve got low maintenance princess hair. I would have loved to try it in a sample gift just to see but the merchandising gods said sorry girl you ain’t a Pisces.

I’ll admit I was pretty bummed as it was advertised all year but I only realized it was sold out when I was able to begin my own birthday gift selection process. Guess I should have kept closer tabs on the beauty influencers.

Charlotte Tilbury Sephora Birthday Set with Pillow Talk mini Matte Lipstick and Mascara

Because I am VIB I had access to a gift that wasn’t initially pictured in the Birthday section. My theory is it got added in after the Olaplex debacle but this is just me putting on a tinfoil hat. I ended up selecting the Charlotte Tilbury gift. When I was the CEO of Stowaway Cosmetics we duped their best selling shade Pillow Talk many years ago.

I’d never actually purchased the original one from Tilbury as I simply had access to the original source contract manufacturer. I never tried it in matte as Stowaway’s original formula was a satin, so I thought “let’s select this” as my gift for the year. I thought it was a nice throwback to remember a time when I wasn’t a civilian but had access to all the cosmetics I wanted straight from the factory. And yes I miss it but not necessarily enough to go back. But I’ll let you know if I like the lipstick!

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 638 and Environment

We’ve had an unseasonably warm week in the Gallatin Valley. We pulled out our two air conditioners from the window installations and went to Costco to install our snow tires. Both activities felt a little bit ridiculous as the temperatures touched 80 degrees.

But finally this morning the last bits of summer felt like they might be behind us. We had a beautiful warm sunny evening last night and yet we woke up to clouds and a damp chill. I was relieved if I’m honest.

Almost overnight our cottonwood trees began to turn to pleasant yellows. The aspen groves showed some signs of change as well. When I went for a walk yesterday beyond the property line I spotted apple trees with maturing fruit. I had only been gone a week from my usual walking route and was surprised to see so much progress into fall happening what felt like overnight.

An apple tree alongside one of our country roads beginning to show fruit.

With temperatures safely back into the 40s and 50s, it felt like it was time to unpack some of our winter clothing. I spent some of this morning sorting through sweaters, scarves, hats and gloves.

It was dusty enough inside the the moving boxes I started to break out with a few itchy patches of red inflamed skin. I took a Benadryl and hoped a cup of coffee would overcome the anti-histamine’s fatigue.

The environment around me is tugging on my body and it’s control systems. But I’m grateful for the change even, if some of the required activities have brought up the stress of change. I love fall. I love the cold. I’m a big fan of winter too. And I’m excited to see where this weather takes us. Call me crazy but I can’t wait for my first winter in Montana.

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Aesthetics

Day 607 and Shopping

I’m in a heavy “bitches be shopping” phase. Moving into a new house always necessitates some new purchases but adjusting to an entirely new lifestyle is a heavy lift.

We don’t have much furniture that effectively made the transition from loft in lower Manhattan at the start of the pandemic to townhouse in Colorado for 18 months. So it’s almost like starting from scratch furnishing a farmhouse in Montana. We are using Havenly to help us decide on items we want for areas we’ve never had to furnish before like a dining room and guest rooms. It’s an amazing service that does all the product market work of finding items in your price point and desired styles.

But of course, it all takes forever to get furniture and I wish we’d started on this earlier. As rationalized not starting till we moved in but of course every week some new piece of furniture gets delayed. I’ll be lucky if I get the dining room table by mid October at this rate.

A rendering of our dining room from Havenly

The other big shopping project is upgrading my wardrobe as even after two winters in Colorado most of the adjustment from Manhattan to the Rocky Mountains was technical fabrics and activewear clothing not actual workwear.

Now I have outdoor clothing needs that are less “let’s go for a hike” and more “someone needs to stack wood” or “turn over the soil in the raised beds.”. I guess this means I’m changing over from Merril hiking boots to Ariat paddock boots and from hiking pants to Carhartt canvas work pants. I placed an order for a bunch of stuff today and am modestly enthusiastic about it.

I’ve spent a small fortune on adjusting to Montana life and a huge chunk of the purchases feel aspirational. Or at least my perception of what kind of adjustments are required. As much as I’ve lived in the country, and worked on a farm, my childhood is well in the distance. I’m working from memories.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 595 and Clean Girl

I am not on Instagram or TikTok. I figure after being on social media for twenty years I’m allowed to be choosy about what platforms take my attention. I’ve joined and left and rejoined every kind of social media you can imagine and the ones that prioritize the written word are my favorites at the moment. WordPress and Twitter have my heart.

I took a break from the visual platforms after I left the cosmetics industry when I sold Stowaway. This means I am in the enjoyable place of only finding out about trends when normies do. It’s quite a relief to have no clue who the fashion influencers are right now after being paid to keep track of them for so long. It brings some of the joy back into it.

Today I did enjoy a little cosplay with the clean girl aesthetic. It’s just a reimagining of the evergreen “model off duty” look but overlayed with rich preppy Carolyn Kennedy styling and a whole lot of TikTok classism and racism. Be white, be rich, have money for nutrition and wellness and whatever you do don’t tell the boys how long it took to do the no-makeup makeup. Minimalism is a look not a reality.

I am an easy fit into the aesthetic as I’ve got all the basics. I pulled out summer weight slit skirt, an airy white tee shirt, tied it together it with a long Norma Kamali gold belt and I was done. I used the super trendy Merit minimalist complexion stick, slicked up my brows, put on a touch of perfume, and some hair oil. I looked styled and I liked it.

It felt pretty fun to look styled on my run to the grocery co-op. It almost makes me want to reboot some of my fashion and beauty content consumption. And I’m super tempted to buy the entire line of Merit products as their entire vibe feels like they evolved off my own former brand Stowaway. I thought I’d be annoyed at a minimalist beauty line up done in grey but I’m just relieved that someone else picked up where I left off. That’s the best part of the style industry. It’s entire purpose is to continues to evolve and improve on classic aesthetics.

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Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 552 and Consumption

When I was emerging into my teens and early adulthood in the aughts I was fascinated by style. Coming from a small town in the Rocky Mountains, populated by hippies and techies, I’d had little exposure to fashion or cosmetics. Gore-Tex jackets, rainbow sarongs and Tevas had more purchase on the imagination than twin sets or pearls.

I didn’t chose a university known for its style either. I chose one known for crunching the numbers on our economy. My abiding interest in why we consume what we do never quite got around to being taste based. I followed fashion through export deficits, balance sheets and purchase orders. More back page of the Economist than Thursday Styles.

It was all an intellectual exercise for me. And it was mostly a numbers game. The cost of cotton and the trading flows of finished goods were much more legible to me than why a WASP enjoyed salmon colored pants.

I didn’t let an utter lack of taste, hell even exposure to taste, get in my way. I used a personal style blog hosted on WordPress (sound familiar) to comment on runway looks that were slowly emerging onto trade publications online. I used my comment sections to hold conversations with other enthusiasts. I was quite sure my opinion mattered. I guess I still am.

I very presumptuously emailed academic and authors like Valerie Steele and Virginia Postrel to share my enthusiasm. Much to my astonishment they wrote back. Eventually I stumbled into being their nominal peers, blending into the milieu of Balthazar breakfasts once I moved to Manhattan. Talk about peaking early. I’d achieved my life’s goals at 23.

But somewhere along the way it didn’t matter anymore that I lacked taste. No one had taste anymore. Our entire aesthetics stalled out sometime in the wake of the Great Recession. As I partied with the rest of Indie Sleeze crowd in my American Apparel deep v-necks, the end of distinct trends and looks was at hand. We just didn’t know it yet

Globalization and the internet gave us an amalgamation of tastes I’ve come to refer to the “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” aesthetic. It’s all the same and it’s always been the same as long as our forever End of History Fukuyama moment continued. We’d reached terminal fashion. As the media class fractured into the creative class and struck gold in startup land, the center of gravity of taste didn’t just shift. It disappeared entirely. It was chaos and boring all at once.

No one sets agendas for style, or taste, or top down, or even bottom up aesthetic movements anymore. It’s just a stream of consumables made by fast fashion factories and sold out through Instagram and TikTok as the data miners and algorithms predetermined your desires before you’d even thought them up. Dystopian looks like getting exactly what you want.

It turned out that fashion blogs, once a nemesis for showing taste before it was ready, had been too slow. Blogging is so 2000 and late. The Everything Everywhere All At Once aesthetic is done with a look even before it starts. Because it has no beginning or end or middle.

Maybe we should have called it non-linear fashion. There are no early adopters or taste laggards any longer. It’s all very much a kind of quantum of sameness. Which is somehow even less exciting than a James Bond movie in the Daniel Craig era.

I stumbled onto a styles section piece about the disappearance of the fashion Czarinas in the wake of the Ukraine war. Global taste has collided with the brutal reality of kleptocracy. We’d ignored it for a decade or two but now it appears history has reasserted itself. Maybe that means fashion might come back? But as inflation runs rampant and supply chains crack we might be edging towards a new austerity. Which might make for a pleasant pre-war historic period.

I for one would love to know who the Neu-Weimar Coco Channel of the Boogaloo/World War 3 conflicts will be. I bet she’s an anorexic TradCath living in Dimes Square. And like her predecessor she’s definitely fucking a Nazi. Let’s pray she has taste that is more interesting than her sex life.

Categories
Aesthetics Emotional Work Travel

Day 531 and Overpacking

I used to be an expert packer. If you do some deep Googling on me you will find lots of travel tips as at one point I was the co-founder of a travel cosmetics company called Stowaway. I was on the road a lot and became quite practiced at getting my entire life in a carry-on.

I can’t seem to pull it off anymore. At first I thought it was because I didn’t travel during the pandemic. Then I blamed it on being modest disabled from all my various health nonsense. But I’ve just stumbled onto the real reason

I’ve got fantasies of having a life where I still do things.

By packing high heels and nice dresses and several colors of lipstick I am telling my disability “not today Satan!” Except then of course I don’t use any of it. Because I am in fact still disabled.

I packed an outfit for a black tie gala when I went down to Austin. Because you never know when you might appreciate having a gown on hand and it didn’t take up much space. Now mind you I still attended an actual gala, but I ended up wearing a tank top and camouflage pants. Crypto is low key that way.

While I am introverted, and not terribly keen on socializing, I haven’t quite given up on a world where I go out if I want to. I want to feel like I’ve got the option to say yes to a nice dinner or to a meeting up at a cocktail bar. Leaving behind my favorite pair of Gucci heels is cutting off some part of my life in my mind.

If I only pack comfortable clothing and sensible skincare I feel as if I’ve conceded something to my disability. If I don’t pack a nice dress, even if my entire trip is planned around being casually at home in an Airbnb, I feel I’ve somehow given in to the pain and fatigue.

I’m not entirely sure if this is something I can work through. Or even if I want to work through it. I hate having to make room for medication and supplements and knowing it means there is no room for a hair dryer or a second pair of heels. I’d rather overpack. I’d rather have some sense of optimism and ambition.

But then I’ve got to get through customs at Heathrow and I’ve got no intention of checking any of my luggage during a chaotic summer for travel. So it might be time to try getting back to traveling light. And that means fewer cosmetics and clothing.