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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I was discussing with a friend their planned to trip to London to capitalize on sterling parity. The pound and the dollar being worth the same amount is an opportunity for American travelers. The conversation turned to optimizing for travel points structures, maintaining status, and other loyalty programs. I suppose anyone who finds traveling opportunities during a currency crisis almost certainly enjoys a good deal and being rewarded for consumption during hard times.
The pandemic upset so many consumer patterns that it’s a little bit hard to remember why we bought some of the things we did in the past. We’ve got vague positive memories and we are attempting to recreate them. Travel is inarguably one of the most confused spaces in the wake of those upheavals. Status got rolled over so when travel opened back up stuff got weird. Lounges got more crowded just as business travelers were being removed from the financial base of the space. It led to a lot of chaos this summer as the economics got reliance’s.
The most loyal travelers got back on the proverbial road in the aftermath and were met with materially worse products despite paying just as much as the remembered in the past. For all of the rich yuppies who showed up to say Italy or other Mediterranean vacations, they were reminded that travel wasn’t so glamorous without the perks. And it certainly made more than a few of us consider the economics of being on the road.
There are other industries where loyalty is being rewarded with worse producers and shittier user experiences. I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of disappointment with the offerings in cosmetics recently. I’ve complained endlessly about shittier packaging and lower grade formulations even though I haven’t really cut down my spending any. Like the loyal travelers, I am putting up with less quality as I don’t really want to simply stop a hobby I enjoy.
But how long will residual loyalty and affection remain? If travel to London must be combined with currency debasement and travel rewards perhaps our loyalty is not endless. Consumers often underestimate our power with industry because it takes them some time to adapt. But if we don’t change our behaviors in response to dwindling quality or service the incentive structures don’t force improvements. The balance is cost of loyalty.
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.
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.
I’m going to publish a little utility article for my online friends about a minimum viable skincare routine. I framed it initially as a “perfect skin” basics document. I’m going to do a bit more work on it which is why it’s not already up as a blog post. But you can look forward to budget buys and budget uses of your time as well as a lesson on how to improve to the point of diminishing returns. Pareto Principle for being well groomed
I think most people, especially men, are embarrassed that appearances matter. If you think of vanity at all, you tend to assign it a negative valence. And it’s almost always depicted as a feminine sin. Bitches and Narcissists be staring at mirrors amirite? I’m far too serious a person to take how I look seriously we preen to our egos.
One of the more challenging aspects of faith is the certain knowledge of death. Longevity science and the perpetual obsession with the fountain of youth aside, we are going to die. All we can do to build a life in our time on earth will be taken from us. And so why should we focus on the small things like beauty? Especially our own beauty. If it is at worst a feminine sin, and at best, a pointless exercise as all human efforts are fruitless, then why bother at all?
I suppose you might as well argue why do any of us do anything at all. Why live? Why have faith? Why build? Why build community. Or at a smaller scale. Why care for your health? Why eat well or exercise? And obviously why moisturize? Omnia Vanitas!
I am here to assure you moisturizing has the same impetus as all human’s grand desires. It is the same reason we build temples. And have children. And go to the doctor. And use Botox. We are human because it pleases us, it pleases those around us, and maybe it even pleases the Lord.
I spent the day puttering on and off through all my worldly possessions. I was deciding on what needs to be packed and when. We have a tiered system of immediate, first week and first month use. And then leaving to the last minute all of the stuff you are fairly certain you use daily.
When it isn’t for an immediate trip it turns out I really enjoy putting together an edited list of daily necessities. I had fun putting together a cosmetics kit for a two week “vacation” where I might not be able to access my full vanity.
I had an enjoyable afternoon going through everything in my bathroom. Just seeing what you have held onto for no good reason and what you accidentally prioritized but didn’t desire pride of place on your shelf. I feel like few things show a woman’s own ambivalence about her priorities quite like her makeup bag.
I’ve ruthlessly culled my routine down to the bare bones. I’ve packed my entire life down to one shitty Heathrow quart baggie. And I’ve enjoyed preposterous largess with two full cabinets of cosmetics crap from a stint in the industry. I’ll never throw away some of it but I doubt I’ll use it either. It’s a strange thing to hang on to as I know shit expires.
I’m grateful my husband hasn’t said anything about me lugging several hundreds pounds of going out makeup to Montana. As if even in Bozeman I’ll find a way to integrate a smoky eye or a bright red lip. Or maybe I’m crazy and of course I’ll find a reason to get done up. Sometimes it’s hard to know now much you are puttering around with things that need to go.
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.