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With my Old Navy chambray shirt (similar), gold Saltwater sandals (here, here, or here), and Forever 21 leggings (similar) in a Westin Moana Surfrider elevator (they have many and the decor varies!).

Clare Vivier x & other stories crossbody shoulder bag, Tumi laptop bag, Longchamp XL Le Pliage tote, and 27″ Brics Pininfarina spinner.

I like the concept of traveling light and occasionally remind myself that I traveled around with a carryon for 2 months last summer, but in reality, sometimes I don’t want to stress about packing optimally. I loved the 21″ Bric’s Pininfarina carryon spinner (spinner puts much less stress on your wrist!) and jumped at the 27″ when it appeared on vente-privee for an extremely reasonable price. The 27″ has been checked in multiple times and has no marks whatsoever despite falling 4″ off a rack on a bus. I’m very impressed with the Italian brand’s quality — especially since I hear the worst reviews on Rimowa which costs 2-3x what I paid for my Bric’s. It looks like the model has been discontinued (the finish is a matte texture) and has been replaced with a smooth, shiny material, but you can still find both versions online for retail at Amazon, Horchow, Kaehler, Luggage Pros, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdale’s.

I’m a huge fan of traveling with nylon Longchamp. The bags itself are light and chic (I try to look presentable when flying). I typically use the Longchamp XL Le Pliage short handled tote as a carryall for random large objects (like shoes), duty free purchases, food purchases, or to consolidate bags as I often board with a Crumpler camera bag, the Tumi laptop bag, and purse. The camera bag does not always count towards your carryon limit. Should there be any super strict airline employees or policies (like the UK once allowing a single carryon even if you’re only transiting), I chuck everything into the Longchamp, but that hasn’t happened in ages. And if you don’t need the Longchamp, you can easily fold it up!

I used to travel with an L sized short handled tote (small travel bag) but now think it’s too small. I recommend the black or dark colors for durability, as it may pick up smudges. My black Planetes large tote is 4 years old and still going strong! While the Planetes cannot be folded up like the Le Pliage line, it is still easy to store flat in your luggage. I do not recommend the expandable travel tote unless you have an extremely strong shoulder — it’s awkward to carry when expanded. I eBayed mine — what’s the point of keeping if I can’t use it whilst expanded without injuring myself?

Longchamp is currently on sale at Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Saks, Neiman Marcus, Magnums, Bagshop, and Longchamp (note: their inventory isn’t 100% accurate). If you’re an early bird, check Saks and Nordstrom in the morning for the best sale inventory. My favorites are the LM Metal travel bag in blue, Le Pliage small travel bag, Le Pliage large travel bag, and of course the black Planetes large tote.  If you’re visiting France, I recommend making your Longchamp purses there for significant savings, but also know that you may have to visit a few Longchamp boutiques to find everything in e.g., Paris, where there is significant tourist traffic which depletes inventory.

Note on Longchamp leather: In one of my first visits to Paris, I purchased a ballet pink Veau Foulonné tote (same shape as the Le Pliage, but in leather) during the July soldes. I’m not super rough on my bags but it did not last my durability test. The corners were too delicate and showed wear after a few wears. It eventually was eBayed. For styles that require durability (e.g. big totes), I do not recommend the Longchamp leather styles. On the contrary, I have a Veau Foulonné key holder in an impractical beige color that is 6 years old and going strong…

In general, I prefer plastic, oversized sunglasses over aviators. The weight is more evenly distributed and the more oversized they are, the more sun protection for the eye area! They’re also great for sleeping on a plane. In my opinion, sunglasses are one of the worst things to forget on a trip.

I’ve been into tortoise rimmed shades of late. During the fall, I got these Marc by Marc Jacobs sunglasses in “Havana” brown (style 213/S) when Shopbop had a sitewide promotion. I have a typical Asian face and Marc by Marc Jacobs (as well as Michael Kors and Forever 21) typically do not disappoint. MBMJ is extremely reasonably priced for the quality.

This style has been out for a while. They are currently sold out at Shopbop and Saks (but I have seen them popback on Shopbop), but available through third party sellers at Amazon.

A funkier rendition is available from Australian designer, Karen Walker (no, not the character from Will & Grace) and made very popular by Blair of Atlantic-Pacific.

Number One ($250), Harvest ($280)

Eaton Trading Company currently has 30% off sitewide including Karen Walker (limited styles), Clare Vivier, and Illesteva.

For more wallet friendly styles, check out Forever 21 (and I snuck another MBMJ in). Although I don’t expect them to last forever, they often do. They’re an easy and cheap way to get through a trend.

F7828 Oversized Round Sunglasses ($5.80), F0365 Round Frame Sunglasses ($5.80)

F6267 Cat-Eye Sunglasses ($5.80), F0339 Round Frame Sunglasses ($5.80)

F3891 Round Sunglasses ($5.80), MBMJ 57mm Sunglasses ($110)

Images from Forever 21, Nordstrom, Karen Walker, and Shopbop.

Mel by Melissa, Melissa’s budget line, has a collaboration with Forever 21. All styles are priced between $19.80 and $22.80, which is well below the Mel by Melissa prices and the Melissa prices, however it is not hard to find Mel or Melissa on sale. Based on reviews, they run true to size. And a bonus for the Forever 21 junkies – they are currently giving away a free subscription to Lucky Mag for purchases over $60. It shows up as a banner on top of my shopping cart.

How cute are the owl sandals! See more colors at the links below.

Images from Forever 21.

(Mel for Forever 21 Metallic Cutout Jellies ($22.80), Mel for Forever 21 Mini Wedge ThongSandals ($19.80), Mel for Forever 21 Thong Sandals ($19.80))

And more eye candy from the normal Mel by Melissa line… these also typically run true to size for me however sometimes I’m between sizes, which means I’m sized out of the non-ballet flat styles.

Images from Zappos.

(Strawberry (($39), Blueberry ($38), Mango II ($45), Mel Fresh III ($42))

I recently placed a huge Forever 21 order. I’m too lazy to go to the store and I like the convenience of getting a cash refund when I mail back my return. I’d been scouring F21 for good black pants. I ordered a ton and these were the cheapest and my favorite! I had to share.

Images from Forever 21.

The Essential Zipped Ankle Pants don’t look or sound like much, but they are ponte legging pants. Ignore the “lightweight” in the description, because they are not lightweight. They cover flaws, are stretchy, aren’t see-through, suck you in, and are flattering. There is one zipper closure at the top of the bum and at the sides of the ankles. They are similar to J.Crew’s pixie pants, except the fabric for the pixie pants is a tad bit dressier and I think this zipper is less likely to slide down, but compare $14.80 to $98! And since I’m short, these are the perfect length for me!

This is why I love retailers who have feedback systems on their website. I wouldn’t have looked at these had they not been so highly reviewed.

If you’re looking for items to get you over the free shipping threshold, visit my Pinterest page for Forever 21. I also liked the Chanel-esque Clear Strap Colorblocked Sandals (haven’t been personally tested yet – need to reorder a size down to TTS) and some of the sunglasses. These Spiked Faux Leather Flats also intrigue me because they are the splitting image of the McQ for Alexander McQueen ballet flats I mentioned here. I typically am not into faux leather shoes…

The Gold Choker

Are chokers making a comeback? I have flashbacks from the late 90s with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

COS Matte Gold Choker (€29) vs. Forever 21 Graduated Choker ($5.80)

When I was at COS in Paris, I picked up this matte gold choker. I used to go crazy with their accessories but have learned to tone it down a bit. Overall, I’ve significantly toned down my shopping on this trip to the point where I have no VAT tax to claim back. The “splurge” was the pharmacy goods. You can find a similar graduated choker at Forever 21 in gold or rose gold for much less. If you’re worried about tarnishing, swipe the underside with a coat of clear nail polish.

The Dark Leopard Print Jean

As mentioned here.

Joe’s Jeans Leopard Print Ankle Legging Jean ($75.60 on sale) vs. Old Navy Rockstar Animal-Print Jeans ($22, before additional discounts)

The delicate embroidered blouse

Dolce Vita Deirdra Lace Top ($198, also known as the Sagiso on Anthropologie and currently available in mint for $168) vs. Forever 21 Eyelet Embroidered Top ($27.80, in cream – selling out quickly – and blue) (Update: The F21 top quality is extremely lacking — they used crochet for the detail…)

If you like the look, Dolce Vita also has a dress under the style name Valentina that has made its way around the blogosphere. Find it here and here (in sale colors).

The Leather Fringe Skirt

When I went to Giverny this summer to visit Monet’s gardens, there was a woman in her 50s who was tastefully dolled up in a black leather fringe skirt, long beaded necklaces, tights, and a leather jacket. Since she is French, she pulled it off very well.

Chan Luu Leather Fringe Skirt ($91.60 from $298) vs. Forever 21 Faux Leather Fringe Skirt ($24.80)

There is a ton of leopard on the market, but not all are tastefully done.

I like Gryphon, which was started by a former Vogue writer. After seeing this 2010 snow leopard print wool coat on Lucky’s Emily Hsieh (major girl crush) and another blogger, I stalked, stalked, and stalked until I was met with success earlier this season. It fits beautifully, much better than the Emerson Fry leopard linen wingtip coat which reminded me of a lab coat. I just need to get it to the dry cleaners first. (Update: I am selling this in size M, please leave a comment or email me at irenelikes at gmail if you are interested!)

I am still intrigued by the faux fur leopard coat. The Forever 21 was too big, the Mango one is pretty sold out, and the ASOS looks more appealing than the F21 one since there are numerical sizes.

Forever 21 Leopard Faux Fur Jacket (on sale for $22 with code HOLIDAY50) / Mango Animal Print Faux Fur Coat (on sale for $99.99 / newer style on sale here) / ASOS Coat in Leopard with Button Front (on sale for $61.57)

If you prefer a small amount of controlled leopard, check out the Keds Champion Laceless Animal (find here or here – note 6pm’s price sometimes fluctuates to $18). They run TTS to slightly big but not enough to size down.

For a subdued leopard, there are also these comfy Old Navy Rockstar Animal Print Jeans. Similar to my post on their chambray shirt, the pros are a classy print, various color/sizing options, and they are super affordable. The color on the left is super subtle in person.


Images from Vogue, Gryphon, Gilt, Mango, Forever 21, Old Navy, ASOS.

I’ve been shopping up a storm lately, but have also been returning up a storm. This requires tight management of credit card expenses, return shipments, and refunds. This article describes me perfectly, except immediate return reads to me as not final sale :)

Credit card expenses:

  • I love how American Express(my preferred card since they gave me my first cc many years ago) has great search and tagging capabilities. For any purchases that I may return, I tag it. Then I can easily search by tags.
    • One of the most depressing things to do is to search year-to-date transactions for <insert your favorite retailer>. Yikes!

Return shipments:

  • If I’m not generating my own UPS or USPS return label, I take a picture of the return label so I can track it. If the return address is in a neighboring state, most likely, it’s much cheaper to print your own UPS or USPS label online.
  • If I have a lot to return, I prefer to pay the return label fee ($6-8) rather than schlep to a store to avoid lines and disgruntled workers. Most retailers process returns in a jiffy, especially J.Crew.
  • If you’re returning multiple orders to different retailers (like J.Crew and Madewell) in the same box, keep track of that as well. I recently returned a bunch of Amazon orders and saw that not all orders in a box were credited, or they didn’t fully credit me for everything returned. Just because they are a reputable retailer does not mean they are perfect.
    • Sidenote: Amazon’s online return/exchange process for their shoes has plenty of bugs. Most retailers do not have world-class customer service like Amazon, which redeems their flaws.

Refunds:

  • Many retailers have integrated their online and in-store POS systems so if you return items bought online in-store, it’s reflected in your online history (e.g. J.Crew, Gap). Many retailers also provide return confirmations via e-mail.
  • If you’re returning in-store, keep all receipts and reconcile with your credit card activity. Most retailers give you an immediate refund, but some like Zara, I think, have to send it back to their online distribution center to process. They forgot to refund an item once, but I had the return acceptance receipt to back me up.
  • You can return crewcuts and online J.Crew Factory items at any J.Crew retail store. If you get pushback on returning online Factory items at a store, ask for a manager (since seasonal staff probably won’t know).
  • If you do not have a receipt, the store may be able to look up a purchase with your credit card (e.g. Target, Gap). If you hate carrying around receipts, and are an Anthropologie shopper, sign up for the free anthro program. It is sooo convenient.
  • When in doubt, keep all items in the plastic bags it arrives in (especially if there are no tags) and keep the original receipts. Or if you lost the original receipt, see if the retailer can send you another one.
  • Since it is the holidays, check for grace periods on return deadlines.

A recent buy that I’m definitely keeping… the J.Crew Collection luxe silk crepe blouse in sand dune. It was on sale plus additional discounts. It’s a luscious, thick silk.

A recent buy that I’m definitely returning, again… Forever 21 Leopard Faux Fur Jacket. I tried, but I remembered why I returned it last year. It’s too swingy/boxy. Plus, I just nabbed another leopard print wool coat that I’ve been stalking for a looooong time on eBay that fits perfectly for an amazing price.

In leopard news, another repeat return was the leopard sidewalk skimmers from Madewell. Calfhair flats are too delicate. I realized I didn’t like the skimmer fit so all colors are going back. I think I may be between sizes on this shoe. Money saved.

And here is something fun, a tip for tracking price fluctuations on Amazon:

Whenever I like something on Amazon (and admittedly, I like a lot ever since they ramped up their clothing and shoe departments), I add it to my cart and then click on save for later. If the price fluctuates, it pops up in the pricing updates. Example, right after the massive designer shoes price drops:

And, no, I don’t wear sizes 9-10, but they had no other sizes in stock and I wanted to track the item.

(Left to right, top to bottom)

I regularly visit Forever21 online. They restock daily during the week and the good stuff can sell out within a day. The perks of shopping online is pretty immaculate merchandise, no lines or piles to dig through, reviews, FULL refund for mailed back returns, and sometimes free magazine subscriptions. I consider the return postage to be a cost of shopping (and cheaper for those on the West Coast). Of all the online retailers, F21 does a great job on their descriptions, but I’m usually between two sizes and order both to be safe. The disadvantage of getting store credit is, it gets messy if you return items you purchased with the store credit.

My picks:

(1) Striped Pearlescent Button Cardigan ($19.80). This reminds me of Chanel and easily spruces up a neutral outfit. Just don’t add old lady accessories, unless that’s the look you’re going for.


(2) Essential Striped Rib Knit Top ($19.80). A doppelgänger of the J. Crew Boatneck Popover top from early 2012 (left picture).

(3) Classic Striped 3/4 Sleeve Top ($14.80). I like 100% cotton tops more than blends. Lightweight.

(4) Leopard Faux Fur Jacket ($62.80). My favorite pick! As previously mentioned here, this jacket is back for the Fall 2012 season. If you’re skinny and typically wear an XS, you’re sized out. Alexa Chung is pictured in an older Topshop style that is long gone. I’ve been looking for a leopard jacket for a while and it’s hard to find one that is not too oversized.


(5) Sequined Scalloped Dress ($32.80). This dress is quickly selling out. It is perfect for holiday parties and has a nice 20’s flapper feel with the scalloped edges.

Images from Forever 21 and J.Crew. Alexa Chung image from Google Images.