Why I Love Birchbox (and you will too)

I discovered Birchbox back in February and have been obsessed since, eagerly awaiting my box of goodies each month. If you’re trying to think of something fun and spontaneous to give as a gift, give a Birchbox subscription. Birchbox, a $10 a month service, is one of the most addictive subscriptions: every month they send you 4-5 high-profile beauty samples for you to try out. What I love about this is it allows me to try products which I would normally never have tried, especially ones that cost +$30. An added bonus? All the small sample sizes are perfect for traveling so I keep a toiletries bag packed with my Birchbox samples in case I have any last minute travel plans.
 
Since February I’ve become addicted to several products I’ve received through my Birchbox…
 

My Favorite Beauty Products (discovered through Birchbox):

1. Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Lotion. Even though I was skeptical about this oil-free formula since I have rather dry skin this amazing and cooling moisturizer works perfect in the summer (though as it gets colder I’m using my heavier moisturizers more often).
 
2. LIV GRN C2C Fragrance Collection in Natural. This stuff smells like heaven. I never thought I would spend $60 on a bottle of perfume until this stuff.
 
3. Number 4 Lumiere d’hiver Reconstructing Masque. I’ve written about this stuff before in my first “Life Upgrades” post – it literally inspired Lifevesting’s product reviews. This masque conditions and treats my hair beautifully without weighing it down.
 
4. Pür Minerals 4-in-1 Pressed Mineral Foundation with SPF 15. Again I was skeptical of this since my skin tends to be rather dry but I love how light and easy this is to use when I’m running late in the morning.
 
5. Twistband Hair Ties. Over Thanksgiving I introduced my sister to these and all of the sudden one of them disappeared. And I dont blame her… these are simple and fun but dress-up a simple ponytail. Plus they dont tug on my hair and look a lot better than a scrunchie on my wrist.
 
Back last week I got my November box in the mail and was excited to try the new products and share my thoughts (and photos) with you:

Chocolate from my November Birchbox

 My November 2011 Birchbox Contained:

1. LaROCCA Champagne and Shimmer Acai Sugar Polish – I wasn’t a huge fan of this scrub. While it sounded luxurious the $35 scrub made my skin greasy and oily but I did enjoy the champagne scent of this. But I think for now I’ll stick to scrubbing gloves and my favorite body wash for exfoliating.

2. Chuao Chocolate Bars – MY FAVORITE THING THIS MONTH! Oh soooo delicious! I got the Firecracker flavor which has popping candies and a hint of chipotle and it was such a rich and complex taste. I will definatly be grabbing a few of these and giving them as stocking stuffers this holiday season.

3. Klorane Soothing Eye Makeup Remover with Cornflower Water – I don’t think I’ll be buying a full-size of this eye makeup remover but it’s nice to have a travel size sample ready for vacation!

4. Oscar Blandi Jasmine Protein Mist – this mist is a nice multi-tasker: use it on dry hair to change the style or use it on wet to protect and detangle. This works similarly to the No. 4 Comb and Protect Spray which I am obsessed with and if I weren’t such a brand loyalist I’d buy a full-size – this version is cheaper than the No. 4 and is great for long hair.

5. Zoya Gems & Jewels Collection in Noel. For some reason blue nailpolish gives me the willies (except navy nail polish which I love)… I can do almost any other color but blue on my fingernails feels frostbitten so I wasn’t a huge fan of this but the other colors in this collection, especially the greens look gorgeous and nicely formulated.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I had one of the best of my life: everyone was healthy, the meal was delicious, the family time was fun and joyful… what more could anyone want from Thanksgiving?

I also tried to shop on Black Friday with my sister and mother but gosh, aren’t all those long lines a turn-off? Honestly, I’d almost rather not get “the amazing deal” in exchange for a pleasant and civilized shopping experience.

What do you think? Would you pay more just to avoid shopping on Black Friday?

Ashley

Wardrobe Essentials: The Black Blazer

Old Navy Black Blazer

Why is it that so many modern women’s clothing essentials were born from menswear? When I wrote my piece on trench coats I remember asking myself this same question. I mean what wasn’t realistic about a turn-of-the-century woman’s wardrobe? Corsets, impractical fabrics, impossible-to-move-in-skirts, restrictive cages socially, politically and fashionably… what wasn’t to love?

I kid, I kid…

Historical fashions are wonderfully romantic but the modern woman, thanks to some nudging by Coco Chanel, craves a more accessible, practical and yet equally chic wardrobe. And with that the black blazer was born. With small adjustments this closet staple is updated from season to season and has been interpreted by countless designers. Zippers, pockets, flaps, lapels, sequins, buttons all help to make no two black blazers quite alike. The key is to find one that echos your distinctive style while performing the heavy double-duty of being a life-long staple.

The Daring Coco Chanel

What to Look for When Buying a Black Blazer

1. Fit. I am partial to blazers that create an hourglass shape but a slouchy boyfriend blazer can really amp up a weekend ensemble. The key is to find a coat that fits you and boosts your confidence, as with all wardrobe essentials.

2. Fabric. Black blazers come in a variety of practical and impractical fabrics. My best advice here would be to find something you can machine wash time and time again and the fabric will maintain its shape. A plus: a comfy, non-starchy fabric.

3. Embellishments, accoutrements, lengths and details. Similar to coats blazers have more choices than you can imagine in terms of details: double-breasted vs. single breasted, three-button, single-button or zipper?, pockets vs. no-pockets, Sequins or velvet vs. minimalism? Deciding which will work with your wardrobe is an important element to think about prior to investing in this staple.

4. Purpose. This part will help you decide on what you should look for in terms of #3 – is the purpose of the blazer to be a chic weekend topper or is it for the office? I’m partial to the black blazers you can pair with everything (all-purpose) but I couldn’t resist when I found a holiday party worthy velvet blazer.

5. Quality. This is a component I look for in every wardrobe essential. Make sure you’re getting what you pay for: inspect the seams, stitching and lining for imperfections or poor craftsmanship.

6. Patience. Finding the right blazer for your body type/style/budget can be a challenge so be patient. Don’t buy a black blazer that isn’t what you were looking for – trust that the perfect one is out there and wait!

Long One-Button Blazer

How to Wear a Black Blazer

Black blazers are sooooo simple to style and that is what makes them a staple. Pairing a blazer with a delicious dress can help turn an evening dress into a day dress. And let’s not forget how easy the black blazer with jeans look is to pull-off on weekends.

What’s your favorite way to wear a black blazer?

Ashley

P.s. Looking to find a more feminine version of this staple? Victoria’s Secret does a gorgeous peplum black blazer:

Victoria's Secret Peplum Blazer

I bought this blazer back in August and it instantly became my favorite – the peplum helps create a fabulous hourglass shape. I would highly recommend adding this piece to your Christmas List!

Further Reading:

How Celebs Wear Black Blazers

The 5 Piece French Wardrobe Method (5PFWM)

I was inspired to write this post after reading whatpinksoundslike’s post on the 5 piece French Wardrobe Method which was inspired by 0000’s post here.

The gist of the 5PFWM is that Americans have a tendency to overload and buy many clothing pieces every season whereas we ought to take inspiration from our French counterparts who are more interested in quality over quantity. The French generally buy five quality wardrobe pieces each season and use that to build a chic but uncluttered wardrobe. As a proponent for quality clothing, I full-heartedly support this wardrobe building theory, most especially because it forces you to really consider what your wardrobe needs in terms of good quality pieces.

My 5PFWM for Fall 2011:

1. A good trench coat. I wrote a post about this wardrobe staple back on November 3rd after doing a bunch of research on different types of trench coats. But it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I actually found my perfect trench coat: a water-repellent fabric, single-breasted with generous A-line cut, shoulder storm flaps and a cute pleat down the back from Anne Klein. What I especially love about the coat I found was that it has a removable wool lining which means this coat can transition well into winter or spring.

2. Aquatalia by Marvin K ‘Royal’ booties. I haven’t finished saving the money for these yet but once I have them I have no doubt that I will wear them for the next several years.

Black Crew-neck Sweater

3. A classic black sweater. I don’t know how I survived so long without a flattering black pull-over sweater. It’s so easy to layer with and matches most of my work outfits.

4. Another wrap dress in a fun print. Wrap dresses are so figure flattering and after writing my post on them back on November 8th I really wanted to find a great, wrinkle-free one. I managed to find the perfect one at Nordstrom Rack in a brilliant black and white pattern.

Winter Kate Jacqueline silk-velvet jacket

5. A velvet jacket. A black velvet jacket screams winter holidays and this one will go perfectly with my holiday dresses. Plus, I have a huge soft-spot for anything with a peplum and this one has the cutest!

If you had to choose five quality pieces to invest in right now, what would they be?

Ashley

Life Upgrades: 10 Ways to Stay Warm This Winter

It’s official: the first snow fell here in Chicago. Nothing stuck on the ground but I have officially switched over into ‘winter hibernation mode’. After living in India for a semester in 2007 my ‘cold’ tolerance has never been the same – even though I went to college in chilly Wisconsin. Every November I try to pull out all my winter clothes and other warm essentials to help me transition into the bitter cold months. Here is a list of 10 life upgrades you can incorporate into your hibernation ritual as we move into the winter months.

1. Heated Tower Warmer & Dryer. I had never even heard of this until Ian and I visited some friends in London in August. Apparently these are considered a household essential across the pond and for good reason – nothing feels more indulgent than a warm towel after a relaxing shower. I also keep Apollo’s small puppy towel on our rack and I wrap him in it after coming in from a frosty morning walk.

Towel Warmer and Dryer

2. Fleece-lined Leggings. I was skeptical that I would get too hot in these and that they would be bulky and unattractive but after trying them on I was in heaven. These are perfect for lounging around the house and wearing under dresses on my commute to work. They are thin and comfortable while warm – essential for winter layering.

Fleece-Lined Leggings from Anthropologie

3. Cuticle Cream. A winter must! My skin gets very dry in winter so I keep a package of this at my desk and at home. It smells like summer which helps with the winter blues too!

Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream

4. Lip Balm. Every girl needs a good lip balm in her arsenal. I got a sample of Jouer Lip Enhancer from Birchbox and it is the silkiest lip moisturizer I’ve tried. A little price-y at $14 but will keep your lips chap-free for the entire season.

Jouer Lip Enhancer

5. Mulled Wine. I love mulled wine and this blend from William Sonoma is delicious and perfect for brewing a warming cup. Just mix with a basic red wine (I use Burgundy) and some sugar (I use organic) and bring to a boil on the stove. Strain and serve with a cinnamon stick. Warning: Have your favorite hangover cure handy for the next morning.

William Sonoma Mulling Spices

6. Waterproof Boots. I love these Aquatalia booties – all the positive reviews speak for themselves and the waterproof fabric will keep your feet dry and warm when trudging to work during the next snowstorm. Though the $398 price is a shocker, a good, well-made pair of work-appropriate black booties will be something you will use for years to come.

Aquatalia "Royal" Booties at Nordstroms

7. A Tailored Wool Coat. A classic, well-constructed coat is the winter closet’s ‘bread and butter’. Make sure to get one large enough to layer under but with some structure so you don’t look like a walking sleeping bag.

Victoria's Secret Wool Trenchcoat

8. A Plush & Cozy Blanket. This is the most important winter essential. Restoration Hardware has been making these fantastic plush blankets for a few years now and I am obsessed with how wonderful they are. I bought the red one last winter and couldn’t have been happier with how cozy, cuddly and warm this blanket was. Plus it washed well and doesn’t lose its ‘coziness’ after three washes.

Restoration Hardware Luxury Plush Throw

9. Ugg Scuffette Slippers. I wish I could get these – they look so warm and cozy. But I think there might be too much fur to tempt poor Apollo into being a slobber-puss on these slippers. But for any pug-free family these look like a fabulous winter home staple.

Ugg Scuffette Slippers

10. A Pug Cuddle. Nature’s best defense against winter: Fur. Cuddling with a pug can be one of the coziest winter activities. Though be warned: you might get snorted on.

Apollo is a snuggler

What are your favorite ways to stay warm in winter? 

Ashley
 
 

Photo Therapy: Ryan & Robin’s Wedding

Before my father passed away he and I owned a photography studio and I spent many weekends in college driving into Chicago to do shoots. After he died I refused to pick up my camera for many months – the memories were still very raw for me. Some may say that that was a cowardly decision but I needed to simplify my life for a while and re-center. But I have a confession – I’ve missed the adrenaline rush that comes from picking up my beloved Nikon and capturing a great shot. So…  

Back in October my boyfriend’s cousin got married in the Chicago Suburbs. Their photographer was only able to cover an hour before the ceremony but Robin, the bride, really wanted some photos of her and her bridesmaids getting ready.

So of course I offered to shoot the morning of. Here are some of the still-life shots I did…

The Bridesmaids Dresses

The Bride's Shoes

The Bride's Purse

The Bride's Jewelry

The Bride's Earrings

The Ring

 

The Bouquets

So after a very long break – I have returned to photography, if just only on a rare basis.

Ashley