shopped ’til i dropped (the blog)

I read a quote recently that went something like this: “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop your story.” Those words spoke to me, because that’s exactly what I’m doing with my blog today.

I’m sure many of you have noticed the long lapse in posts; in fact, I’ve received dozens of sweet notes over the months asking when I would be back on board with shopping suggestions and embarrassing stories about my youth. And up until now, I didn’t have a definitive answer. (Frankly, I couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to a project that has been a total joy to produce.) But as more and more work projects edged their way into my life, the blog started to play second fiddle. And you’d be surprised how much research time it takes to find five decent, affordable doppelgangers for a pair of Prada loafers or a Kate Spade cake plate. Plus, anyone who’s written a blog knows that you can’t just post now and then–consistency is key.

So that takes us here, sweet friends. Just so you know, I’m leaving the collection of entries live as an archive of…well, a lot of hard work! And maybe one of these days I’ll be back with a whole new spin.  But for now, I’m sending you kisses, hugs, and sincere thanks for reading The Bargain Hunter these past few years.

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chopped

I’m a sucker for gizmos. Especially for kitchen gizmos. Especially for kitchen gizmos that chop things up into perfectly beautiful, symmetrical chunks, dices, and rounds.

This might have something to do with my youth, when my mother–an artist and a perfectionist–would ask me to cut up the occasional vegetable (red pepper most often comes to mind); then would circle back two/three/four times to correct the size and uniformity of my handiwork. (Come to think of it, isn’t that what the Food Network judges are always harping about?)

These days, an inexpensive tool that gets the job done seems like a good idea.

Exactly what it looks like: a banana cutter, $4.49; amazon.com

Chef'n StemGem Strawberry Stem Remover, $7.95; amazon.com

No…not a red rocket.

Once you've hulled it, this baby does the slicing: MSC Joie Simply Slice Strawberry Slicer, $4.75; amazon.com

A fairly traditional apple cutter...with the benefit of a turtle base in lieu of a plate. Animal House Turtle Fruit Slicer / Corer, $3.96; amazon.com

Shove the citrus into its nifty cradle, then section to your heart's delight. Xtraordinary Home Products Lemon and Lime Wedger, $9.90; amazon.com

Now I just need to find something to cut those peppers.

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abc’s 20/20–a bad cut

As everyone knows, I’m the first person to extol the virtues of bargain beauty. But as a seasoned reporter, I’m NOT apt to extol the virtues of a piece of imbalanced, biased journalism, no matter how little I like to pay for a haircut. Which is why I took it upon myself to kick some ABC News ass today in the Huffington Post Style Section. Here’s what I had to say….

When TV “investigative journalism” is done well, the public becomes educated, important issues receive attention… and someone wins an Emmy award. When it’s done poorly, it seems, the story could end up on ABC’s weekly news program, 20/20.

Which is precisely what happened on May 3rd, when the network broadcast a piece entitled “Confessions of a Hairstylist,” a one-sided, eight-minute segment in which a cackling, unprofessional, Santa Monica-based colorist — whom ABC seemingly treats as the sole spokesperson for the entire hair industry — took it upon herself to denigrate her own profession, while laughingly uttering the words, “I’m going to hell!” Branding practically everyone in her business as unscrupulous, unclean, and downright immoral, the story likely convinced more than a few viewers to pick up a pair of drugstore shears, lock themselves in a bathroom, and cut their own damn hair. What’s more, it made mincemeat of top celebrity stylist, Adir Abergel (who styled Anne Hathaway’s hair during the 2011 Academy Awards), for commanding as much as $600 per haircut.

“Sadly, people who are not successful in a given industry enjoy an opportunity to bash that industry, which is exactly what seems to have happened here,” says leading color expert, Beth Minardi, a 30-year veteran of the business, and an educator who has been branded by some as “the scientist of color.”

By focusing on the worst offenders (those salons with lousy sanitation practices, rampant gossip, employees who retaliate against bad clients) and taking shots at the issue of haircut pricing, 20/20 does a disservice to the $75 billion-dollar hair biz, and the professionals who take pride in their work, their training, and their artistry. “No profession is perfect,” says Minardi, who agrees that there are plenty of “great salons, ok salons, and bad salons.” “It’s this universally negative portrayal that’s disturbing.”

20/20’s Voice Over: “Hair Salons: Are they clean or dirty? “Dirty,” says their expert.”

While some salons are cited with sanitation violations (after all, there’s got to be fodder for Bravo TV’s Tabatha Takes Over or she wouldn’t have a show), hygiene is at the top of the list for many shops, including the 1,000-plus JCP salons (formerly known as JCPenney), that recently beefed up their talent roster by replacing all front-desk receptionists with licensed cosmetologists. “We are held to very high standards,” says Vanessa Scott, a master stylist at JCP’s Ann Arbor, MI salon, who’s been brandishing the scissors for 14 years now. “We’re actually required to have four different containers at our stations — one for dirty combs, another for clean combs, one for dirty brushes, another for clean brushes.” Also in this chain-salon’s hygiene arsenal: Barbicide cleansing wipes for shears (“I clean mine after every client,” says Scott), which they also place at the shampoo bar to wipe down chairs, bowls, and neck rests. In fact, large-scale chain salons may actually be cleaner than some random shops, given the stringent sanitation requirements often mandated by corporate policy.

And then there are the ones that simply shine all by themselves. At the Mark Garrison Salon in NYC, assistants spend a portion of each day cleaning brushes, combs, and rollers, while housekeepers sanitize the bathroom countertops, floors, and windows. Sure, you might pay a premium for the meticulous maintenance (read: overhead), but what you’re shelling out in fees, you’re getting back in spades, explains Minardi, whose team takes up a section of the Garrison salon.

In the end, though, you have to be your own watchdog when it comes to choosing wisely. Celebrity stylist, Damien Carney, urges consumers to keep their eyes open and pay attention to a salon’s image, right down to noticing whether they stock new magazines in the reception area, offer freshly-brewed coffee, and even display diplomas and awards on the walls. “You don’t need to be an expert to note attention to detail,” says Carney. “You’ll know what looks good and professional. Salons are the one place where it’s okay to judge a book by its cover.”

20/20’s Voice Over: “Your stylist is almost always spilling your secrets and judging everything about you.”

Many stylists agree that they are often the first person to which a client will confess their fears, pain, or betrayals, but that doesn’t mean your personal business becomes gossip material in the break room. “We have the honor of being able to physically touch people, and because of that, we form relationships with regular clients… some of whom we’ve been seeing every month for 20 years or more,” says Minardi, who explains that it’s not unheard to chat privately with co-workers about how badly they feel for a suffering client. Vanessa Scott agrees that some of her customers become like family. As for the troublemakers? “We’re only human,” says Minardi. “If a client is terribly rude and makes a scene or behaves in an impossible manner, we might talk about them. But most people working together tend to do this, no matter what business they’re in.”

20/20’s Voice Over: “Some salons keep more tabs on you than the CIA. Receptionists may make secret notations about you: Poor tipper, bad attitude…or the kiss of death…always late.”

What 20/20 may see as a bad thing — maintaining client profiles — may actually be an important part of good old-fashioned customer service. Just as the best hotels keep track of which pillows you prefer, and the best waiters greet you with your favorite cocktail, the best hair salons offer the same kind of personalization — not to your detriment, but in an effort to offer accommodate the whims and ways of their regular clients. “Even if negative notes are taken — about clients’ tantrums or their habitual tendency to put their stylist behind schedule — it informs the staff that they need to be ultra-careful in their attempt to satisfy the guest, or to be flexible that day, or to know which stylist may or not be a good match for that customer,” says Minardi.

20/20’s Voice Over: “But we all know it always come down to the money.”

Ultimately, though, 20/20’s piece spends most of its time bashing the bucks: how much people should pay for a haircut and whether or not any of it is worth the money. In an effort to discredit the notion of shelling out top dollar, the show sends a buffet of women (with coifs that range from $20 to $600) onto the streets of Hollywood, and asks passersby to match the tab — Price is Right-style — with the cut. As you might expect, most failed miserably, which must have made producers of the segment positively giddy. But comparing high to low is like comparing apples to go-carts: The price of the cut has little to do with looking great. One thing most stylists agree on is that the term “perfect hair” means something different to each customer. “A cut may or may not be technically perfect, but it looks good on a client…or is easy for them to style… or is better than their last cut… or happens to lay well with their particular hair type… or maybe it’s simply that the guest enjoyed the stylist and their experience in the salon, says Amy Quackenbush, owner of Seattle’s Adele Salon. “All of that makes for a perfect haircut.”

And that’s what the entire business is really about — self-confidence. “You can buy a suit for your next meeting and feel smart because you look good and you only paid $80 for it, or you could pay $800 and feel just as great about yourself,” says California-based hair pro Cheryl Robinson, who owns 36 Supercuts salons — a chain known for specializing in low-cost, time-efficient services, a walk-in/no reservations policy, and an a la carte menu that allows customers to pay — or not pay — for add-ons, like a blow dry. Yet despite being an expert in the budget business, she, too, acknowledges that a haircut is a about a heck of a lot more than just its price tag. “Our stylists spend 1,600 hours in schooling to get their license, and another 80 hours of intense education in cutting hair for our company; but many factors go into the price of a service in our industry, and it’s not necessarily based solely on the quality of the cut. It’s also based on the quality of the experience the customer gets.”

To wit, NYC stylist and national educator, Stephen Wang, wields the finest, $1,000 haircutting scissors, creates blowouts that last for days with natural-bristle Mason Pearson brushes, and works out of a swanky salon on the upper east side of Manhattan, an area that easily gets as much as $40,000 monthly rent… all of which plays a part in setting his $175 tab. “Ask yourself about the difference between a Valentino dress and an H&M dress,” challenges Minardi. “They’re both dresses. They both cover your ass. But, like fashion, haircutting is an art form. If a stylist commands top dollar, it’s because many people demand to see this person for a cut that has become very important to them.”

And that’s exactly how the luxury-goods market has always worked; those who choose Mercedes over Mazda, or Vuitton over Nine West are getting flawless design and emotional satisfaction for a premium price — one that they’re willing to pay. “At the end of the day, we can coexist just fine,” says Supercuts’ Cheryl Robinson. “We’re all professionals in the beauty industry. Well, except for the lady they interviewed.”

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in a huff

Wrote a story for the Weddings section of Huffington Post this week called The Top 10 Beauty Products Every Bride Should Have In Her Bag.

Want to know something? I own and use them all. (And I haven’t been a new bride since…well, since a very long time ago.) They’re the perfect, pretty, long-lasting products to get any woman down the aisle in style. But trust me when I say that she’ll want to use them long after the party is over.

A few I’ve written about here before; a few I haven’t. But some things bear repeating….

1. Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Powder
I was as thrilled as anyone when high-def technology hit flat screens a decade ago; but let’s just say that news anchors weren’t exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of having every wrinkle, crevice, pore, and “smile line” take a front row seat on the six o’clock news. To counteract the they-see-everything problem, companies began launching a range of foundations and powders that help reality disappear with the sweep of a brush or the mist of an airbrush device. Be it CBS or CVS, it took all but a minute for everyone else to realize that these products do a good job of erasing imperfections in real life, too.

It wasn’t until I had to do a TV appearance — and the producer hit me with a fluffy cloud of HD Microfinish Powder moments before I went on set — that I became a true convert. This extremely fine-milled, one-shade-fits-all product is virtually invisible to HD cameras, wedding videographers, and the naked eye (of reception guests, that is). With one stroke of a fluffy brush, the oddly white-ish particles become undetectable, set your foundation, matte the finish, and put you in beautiful soft focus…perfect for those photos that you’ll be looking at for years to come. 8.5 oz, $34; available at Sephora.com.

2. Rimmel London Fix & Perfect Pro 002/Transparent
When the early, silicone-based face “coatings” hit the market, they slicked on like Crisco to a Bundt pan, enabling foundation to slide on with the greatest of ease. Did the vaguely chemical-smelling ingredients fill in some of the rough road caused by blemishes, wrinkles, and uneven skin texture? Sure, but they also left my face with an uncomfortably greasy trail, which seemed to take on more and more shine as the day wore on. This side effect, as you can imagine, did not a beautiful bride make. It also did not a beautiful beauty writer make. Trust me on this. But the trend has led to new, more refined primer introductions. And I recently fell in love with Rimmel’s Transparent Primer — a tube of lotion that seems to have just enough slickness to give foundation and concealer super glide-power (I can only describe it as dancing in socks on a shiny hardwood floor), yet not so much that you want to wash with car-mechanic soap after the cocktail hour commences. Bonus: It actually smells good. Bonus bonus: It’s affordable. 1 oz, $8.49; Drugstore.com.

3. MAC’s Pro Longwear Lipglass
Put the word “long lasting” in front of most glosses, and you’ve got something that either stains your lips like an oven-roasted beet, or involves a two-step process that starts with a slippery base coat of color, and finishes with a clear coat, which turns bulletproof before you can say, I do. In my experience, the products feel lousy on the lips…and both tactics will require a bride to employ industrial-strength (lip-parching) makeup removers in the honeymoon suite.

Lipglass, on the other hand, bypasses the dying-and-sealing maneuvers, so you get a rich, highly-moisturizing, glossy finish that somehow — and I couldn’t explain it if I tried — stays put for hours and hours, yet wipes off with a tissue when you’re ready to go au naturel. My favorite pick: Ready or Not!, a lovely, not-at-all-saccharine shade of beige-y peach that flatters most skin tones and is oh-so aptly named. .06 oz, $22; Maccosmetics.com.

4. Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Starter Kit
Gel manicures — most notably, CND’s “Shellac” — have revolutionized the mani market over the last few years. The stuff goes on like regular polish, but gets sealed under a UV light, rendering the service both quick (almost as fast as a regular manicure), and nearly as long lasting as a set of acrylics, minus the damage. The downside, though, is that paying for the constant, bi-weekly pro service gets pricey; the average cost of a salon gel mani runs about $40.

So when Sally Hansen launched its Salon Gel Polish Manicure Kit a few months ago, my curiosity was piqued. This stuff is quite something: It took me all of 10 minutes to polish 10 digits, and that included pushing back cuticles; wiping each nail with an alcohol-soaked cotton pad; stroking on a base, color, and top coat; plus spending 30-seconds under the lamp after each application. (Note: You can cure a whole hand at a time.) Afterwards, you simply wipe each nail again with the alcohol-soaked pad, which gets rid of a sticky residue that’s part and parcel of the procedure. I am not kidding you when I say this stuff is the real deal — it holds up like the best of them, and is affordable enough to keep your hands swanky from engagement all the way through the honeymoon. Starter kit, about $70; Target.com.

5. Estée Lauder Sumptuous Extreme Waterproof Mascara
I’ve never been a fan of waterproof mascara — it’s a little high maintenance in the removal department — but no smart bride would glide down the aisle without it. (Begin crying…now.)
But someone at Lauder waved a magic mascara wand when they created Sumptuous Extreme, a luxe, almost creamy product that slips onto each lash so quickly and easily, it’s literally a cinch to lengthen, volumize, and brighten your eyes without tell-tale clumps or the need for endless coats of mascara. Better yet, the formula has a unique sheen, so lashes end up glossy not matte. $26; Esteelauder.com.

6. Joico Power Spray Fast-Dry Finishing Spray, Hold 8-10
Hair takes center stage not just on your wedding day, but at engagement celebrations, showers, bachelorette bashes, rehearsal dinners, you name it. And for those occasions, most folks want a hairspray that locks things in. That’s not so hard to find.

What is hard to find is a product that not only provides staying power, but allows for a certain amount of swing, so your entire head of hair doesn’t move as one. (Or worse, break when introduced to a comb or brush.) My answer to this problem is Joico’s new Power Spray: It utilizes a technology known as AquaLastik, delivering a unique slip that allows even the finest, frizziest strands to move, while holding your blow-dried style in place, providing UV protection, and throwing in a handy humidity fighter. The bonanza here? Unlike most hairsprays, it can be reapplied over and over — no caking issues to be had. (I spritzed once and achieved a Level 8 hold; spritzed two more times, and had hold that would stand up to the wind on Kauai’s windiest beach resorts.) 9 oz, about $17; Joico.com.

7. Revlon’s ColorStay Eyeliner
You can invest in a highbrow pencil, but you’re going to ask yourself why when you take a look-see at this humble little liner. You get a twist-up stick (no sharpening required), and a velvety formula that you can easily blend, smudge, and smoke without losing any of the long-wearing (16-hour) intensity. It may be the most unpretentious, no-frills item in my makeup drawer, but it’s everything a bride could need, minus the fancy-schmancy packaging. 8 colors, $7.49; Ulta.com.

8. MAC 219 Pencil Brush
Speaking of blending and smudging, you’ll also need a brush that has the dependability of a professional makeup artist, eliminating any possibility of the raccoon look . MAC’S 219 is a favorite, and considered THE tool for creating a smoky eye — it provides an unusual bristle combo of fluffy and pointy, so I can get right down into that lash line and soften liner with just one or two quick passes of the brush. Plus, the bristles are white, so you’ll easily see just how much product you’ve loaded onto the brush. $25; Maccosmetics.com.

9. Shiseido Sun Protection Liquid Foundation
At first glance, you’ll think sunscreen, not makeup. That’s because this foundation comes in a funky little turquoise, plastic bottle that looks every bit like something you’d throw in a beach bag rather than a bridal bag…which is precisely what I told my beauty-loving friend when she first raved about the stuff to me. (In fact, it does get thrown in beach bags; the product has a cult-like following among pro surfers and snowboarders.) But if you relegated Shiseido’s foundation to the beach, you’d be missing out on an opportunity to achieve seriously-perfect, pore-free coverage, almost like you’re under a soft-focus camera lens; I swear it looks exactly the same eight hours after you’ve applied it. Throw in the fact that this foundation has an SPF of 42 (perfect for outdoor weddings), and is smear, smudge, and streak-free, and you’ll forgive the oddball packaging…and the necessity for a semi-speedy application before it “settles in” for the day. (Hint: Use a brush.) 1 oz, $35; Shiseido.com.

10. Aerin Rose Hand and Body Cream
If you’re not on a first-name basis with Aerin, the new eponymous makeup line launched by Estée Lauder’s style-setting exec/granddaughter, you’re going to want to do a meet-and-greet very soon. It’s hard to pick just one product that’s bridal-bag worthy here, because her entire Essentials collection seems tailor-made for weddings and vanity tables: diminutive gold packaging, freshly neutral colors, and a pared down, perfectly edited stash for your bag. But that said, you need to get your hands on her Rose Hand and Body Cream — a silky tube of moisturizer (so pretty, it’s literally display-worthy), delivering velvety-soft skin and a delicate rose scent that won’t compete with your bridal bouquet. After the honeymoon, I’m betting you — like me — will keep a tube in your car at all times. 4.2 oz, $40; Estéelauder.com.

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punch it up

Being a Seattleite (read: It rains a lot here), I’m always a sucker for those bright, happy, spring clothes that start showing up in March and April. And I buy them, all the while thinking to myself, If I wear them, it will come. (Sun—not baseball.)

This season, I’m seeing citrus-y bursts of red, yellow, and orange (with the occasional lime thrown in for good measure), which Pantone–the leading authority on color trends–validates, by naming three out of ten of those shades as the hot colors for 2013.

There is probably some logic to my grown-up obsession with fruit-bowl fashion; when I was a kid, my entire room was done up in red, yellow, and orange. I’m talking everything. The rug. The bedding. The desk accessories. The night table. And yes, my favorite stuffed animal from I. Magnin.

He is faded. He is also nameless--because I changed it so many times, he lost his identity. Now, I just call him The Dog From I. Magnin.

Let me take this a step further. When I spent my summers in Armonk, NY, my brothers and cousins and I would walk to the candy store down the street and I would invariably buy—wait for it—Clark’s Fruit Stripe gum.


Romy and Michelle liked fruit, too.

Today, my house is like a Florida citrus grove. Can’t tell you how many people have asked me how I grow such beautiful fruit on my paper mache lemon tree that sits next to the kitchen sink.

Lemon tree very pretty. Also very fake.

My Tiffany sugar bowl...

Fruit in a fruit bowl. Literally.

My tea-bag bowl...

So when I saw the Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie wearing the juiciest Ted Baker striped dress (which sold for $124 at Nordstrom, on sale), and then a great doppelganger at JCP for $39, I knew the fruit bug was biting again.

Tie-striped dress from jcp.com; $39

Think I’m done? Hardly…the pickings are plentiful:

Sunflower Print Dress, $35; jcp.com

Jacquard Fit & Flare Print Dress, $40; jcp.com

Calipe Skirt, $68; shabbyapple.com

Daddy Printed Silk Tie-Front Blouse, $99; theoutnet.com

Remember floral swim caps (aka “bathing” caps) from the 1960s? They’ve become purses…

Petal Power Bag in Orange Multi, $135; glamourpussny.com

And then there are shoes. Lots of shoes…

Shelly's of London Belle in Orange. $114.99; heels.com

Miss L-Fire Miranda Rose Motif Mule, $113.05; asos.com

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Marimekko Sneaker, $59.95; dsw.com

Sketchers Outfield Athletic Shoes, $59.99; kohls.com

And jewelry, of course…

Brita's Chunky Teardrop Earrings, $28.95; fantasyjewelrybox.com

Maranda's Chunky Teardrop Earrings, $34.95; fantasyjewelrybox.com

Czech pressed-glass fruit necklace with Swarovski crystals, $229; juliabristowjewelry.com

Hope spring has sprung in your backyard. As for me, I’m still waiting.

And waiting.

Still waiting.

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gelling with this mani…

When I was growing up, a really revolutionary manicure was…one that didn’t chip.

Word to the wise: It also didn’t exist.

And I know this because I was highly influenced by magazine ads, and tried them all:

Not 100 percent sure what made this professional...other than the fact that it was available in about 100 colors, which was rare at the time.

Cutex was my favorite--loved the curvy shape, and the fact that my uncle's glamorous then-girlfriend gave me my first bottle of the stuff.

And if they didn't boast about no-chipping, they boasted about shine. Which was a fair claim--until the polish chipped.

But manicures have come a long way, baby (points to any reader who knows what ad that tagline came from; and the admission will nail you as 40-something). These days, it’s not about shine, but about how many out-there manicures you can possibly post on pinterest.

To wit:

The "Criss Cross." (Don't begin to ask me how this look was achieved. I'm exhausted just posting it.)

The "Side French."

The "Ombre Manicure." To match the hair, I presume.

Nowadays, we’re back to the No Chipping hoopla. Only this time, it’s no joke. March your fanny to a local nail salon and ask for a Gel Manicure (the most popular products are produced by OPI and CND)…and for about $40, you can have your digits polished, then cured by an LED light box; rendering them unchippable for up to 14 days. I have succumbed, over and over.

Today, I sat on the floor of my office (it’s a home office, which is why I don’t get strange looks) and gave Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Manicure Kit a try. I did this with a fair amount of skepticism, since I once blogged about a home gel polish (admittedly, no light curing), which cracked after about three hours and smelled like Krazy Glue. Readers concurred.

This stuff, though, is quite something. It took me all of ten minutes to polish ten digits (granted, I went with clear), and that included pushing back my cuticles; wiping each nail clean with an alcohol-soaked pad; painting on a base coat; curing for 30 seconds under my own little LED light box; painting on a top coat; curing for another 30 seconds; then wiping each nail again with the alcohol pad (it gets rid of of a sticky residue that’s part and parcel of the procedure). Done.

Here’s a demo…

The starter kit–which includes three polishes, the lamp, and assorted accoutrements–runs $70; individual polishes thereafter are about $13. (There’s also a cheaper “strip” kit for those who are phobic about brushing on their own color…but you have to be skilled at placing the little nail polish “band aids” just so. I’m not.)

It’s ten hours later. I have washed dishes. I have showered. I have typed. I have done yoga. My manicure is shiny and hard as a rock.


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oh joy

The Grinch may have stolen Christmas, but you’ll want to steal these DIY holiday ideas…they’re fun, festive, and frugal.

Dip 25-cent candy canes in melted chocolate, then serve as coffee or cocoa stirrers.

Freeze ice rings--infused with holly berries and rosemary--to use as snowy outdoor votive holders.

Storebought donut holes take a turn as edible snowmen--complete with peanut-butter-cup top hats.

An icy dusting of cool-blue glitter puts holiday sparkle at your fingertips this season.

Classic, inexpensive fish bowls--stacked in triplicate--become one giant, scenic snowman sculpture.

An icy ginger cocktail to toast the New Year...

Pre-dinner nibbles--olives, tomatoes, and mozzarella--grace a rosemary wreath.

To-go cocoa cups are rimmed with crushed candy canes for a minty finish.

Dining chairs play dress-up when festooned with holiday ribbon and sprigs of greenery..

A very easy way to turn a bowl of eggnog or Mexican horchata into Frosty himself.

Berry simple: strawberries dipped in melted white chocolate and sugar sprinkles.

Your bookshelf collection morphs into something a little different with a few artful moves.

Festive fingers with stencils and shimmery crimson polish.

Beribboned candy canes liven up holiday window panes.

A tree of lights--literally.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday season–with special thoughts of love, peace, and healing to those who are in need of comfort right now.

Blessings,

Hillary

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hold on!

So I’m at a national sales meeting for a major hair-care company a few weeks ago, where, in the name of beauty research, I’m ushered into a series of “sessions” (code for: my turn to hear really technical industry explanations of all the new products, without a mode of escape). I’ve been in this business a long time. I was not expecting greatness.

After doodling on a scratchpad for a while–and trying very hard to look like I understood everything coming out of the lab expert’s mouth—they started passing around the products. Now I perk up. After all, guinea-pig beauty’s my thing.

Industry folks, seated at round tables of ten, are politely taking their time to read the label and put on their requisite I’m-so-very-impressed-with-the-packaging-and-ingredients face…and then handing it to their neighbor, who does the same.

The silver can of Joico Power Spray makes its way over to me, which is when I begin wondering if it would be considered rude  to spritz the stuff onto my hair right in the middle of the session. (Without a mirror, my aim might be off…but how else to try/smell/feel a new hairspray?) So to hell with propriety—I hit the nozzle and go for it.

Well, monkey see, monkey do…because next thing you know, everyone’s spritzing the stuff onto their hair.

A few hours later, I head to my room to freshen up for dinner; only to my amazement, there’s no freshening up needed. My hair has this just-stepped-out-of-a-salon-chair look to it, and feels even better to the touch.

How to explain this? Most hairsprays, especially those in the firm-hold category, leave my fairy-dust-fine-hair crunchy. The style is held in place, but the entire head of hair sort of moves as one. Worse, if I drag my fingers through to loosen things up a bit, I start to hear the sound of breaking strands. (This is not a good sign, as I have little enough of the stuff to begin with.) But Power Spray—which, I’m told, utilizes a technology known as AquaLastik—delivers this unique “slip,” allowing even the finest, frizziest strands to swing, while a) locking in your blow-dried style, b) providing UV protection and a humidity fighter, and c) managing to smell nice at the same time.

Unlike most hairsprays, the product can be reapplied over and over–no caking issues to be had. (Spritz once, and you have Level 8 hold; spritz two more times, and you have a Level 10 on your hands.) Joico Power Spray, about ($17) is available at salons only; info at joico.com.

From one monkey to another: You will go bananas for this stuff.

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chasing skirts

My friend, Ali, wrote a cool book about skirts. It seemed an odd subject for her first publishing venture. But sure enough—there was something to say. Like:

The “hobble” skirt was the cause of countless deaths in the early 20th century. (Apparently, the thing shackled women at the ankle, causing a number of grisly crosswalk accidents. Eventually, planners in several major cities had to lower trolley and train steps to allow women to step on and off without incident.) Who knew?

And:

A town in Italy outlawed miniskirts in 2010(!); and in many African countries, women today are still arrested—or worse—for wearing skirts above the knees. Which actually makes sense to me in the same way we have a drinking age, or give the 65-and-older crowd a break at the movies. The more, um, “senior” I get, the more I concede the sad fact that my skirts must cover my knees.  And let me tell you—I’ve tried on a few short things lately for which I should have been arrested.

I was really happy, then, to stumble onto Shabby Apple, a website that offers great-looking, over-the-knee-length skirts (and more) for short prices.

Music Hall skirt; $76, www.shabbyapple.com

Caterpillar skirt; $65, www.shabbyapple.com

Curtsy skirt; $64, www.shabbyapple.com

Hollywood Boulevard skirt; $59, www.shabbyapple.com

Summer Break skirt; $47, www.shabbyapple.com

Little Susie skirt; $58, www.shabbyapple.com

Academy Award skirt; $62, www.shabbyapple.com

Curiouser and Curiouser skirt; $65, www.shabbyapple.com

One question: Are you weak at the knees for skirts, too, these days? (To be fair, that’s probably two questions.)

P.S.: Do you think it’s a bad sign that I accidentally typed the word, “skirt” into the user-name box on my Facebook homepage?

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neiman’s-for-all

You know what I consider fun during the holiday season? Checking out the most expensive item in the annual Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog (which is now actually referred to as “The Book”). One year, the big-ticket item was a million-dollar, diamond-encrusted bra from Victoria’s Secret. I do not know if they sold any…but I would hope, at the very least, it came with a coupon code for free shipping.

This year, however, Neiman’s is partnering up with Target to introduce a shared holiday collection that will be available at both stores. To my mind, this lends an extra cachet to the goods, since we know damn well the Missoni-for-Target pieces never saw the inside of a real Missoni boutique. The Neiman’s collection hits stores starting December 1 (yes, this Saturday), and will feature more than 50 limited-edition items from 24 designers.

Alice + Olivia
Altuzarra
Band of Outsiders
Brian Atwood
Carolina Herrera
Derek Lam
Diane von Furstenberg
Eddie Borgo
Jason Wu
Judith Leiber
Lela Rose
Marchesa
Marc Jacobs
Oscar de la Renta
Philip Crangi
Prabal Gurung
Proenza Schouler
Rag & Bone
Robert Rodriguez
Rodarte
Skaist-Taylor
Thom Browne
Tory Burch
Tracy Reese

A few of my fav’s to whet your appetite…

Lela Rose top; $69.99

Alice & Olivia luggage; $179.99

Marchesa Girls' Floral Dress (yes, THAT Marchesa); $79.99

Judith Leiber compact mirror (Name sound familiar? She makes the $4,000 crystal-studded animal evening bags.); $59.99

Thom Browne Womens' Blazer; $129.99 (they offer a doppelganger for men, too)

Could resist one more Marchesa-for-kids; $99.99

Brian Atwood leather gloves; $49.99

Tracy Reese blouse; $79.99

Marc Jacobs pouches; $69.99

Rag & Bone mens' sweater; $69.99

Alice & Olivia bicycle (possibly the sweetest I've ever seen); $499

You can buy the items online starting December 1st at  12:01 a.m.

Correction: You’re supposed to be able to buy the items online starting December 1st at 12:01 a.m. But I’m quite certain the throngs of web shoppers will cause the site to crash…and you will be on your computer until three in the morning.

Might be worth it.


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about this blog


Okay, so here’s my motto:

Anything worth buying...is worth buying cheaper.

And that’s where this blog comes into the picture. I’ve been a national magazine writer and editor for more years than I care to admit. During that time, I’ve researched, written about, and played with the hottest, newest, trendiest things under the sun - from lipsticks to lampshades, denim to doorknobs (I'm not kidding... I actually had to write a story about vintage doorknobs). And while I know plenty of people who pay big bucks for the latest designer handbag, I actually get a bigger thrill out of finding really cool, obscure items for a song: a brilliant leather coat at Target, say, or a drugstore lipgloss straight from London.

So hang out with me here and we’ll go shopping together for the best beauty bargains, fashion finds, brilliant home décor and more.