Podcast on The Tao of Self-Confidence

Recently, I was honoured to be invited on “The Tao of Self Confidence” talk show by Sheena Yap Chan and just a few weeks ago, the episode I was on was aired.

Here's some back story, before I share the podcast. I didn’t go searching for publicity on a talkshow. In fact, for those of you that know me, you know that I’m a relatively "do-my-own-thing" kind of gal. I do have a wacky side that comes through when I’m teaching my style and wardrobe courses (I’m super passionate about helping women get their style mojo back), or when I’m doing personal styling, and sometimes I burst into song (loudly) when I’m stressed and have challenges I need to work through. Mostly, I’m not a sanguine or a gregarious personality.

So when Sheena approached me, I was equal parts surprised/excited and apprehensive. In the end, I decided to give it a go, because I wanted to do something I’ve never done before, because Sheena was genuine in her asking, because I checked out her site and it was legit, because it was a genuine opportunity to share my views on confidence with other wonderful people on the same journey as me, because growth never emerged from staying within my comfort zones… for all those reasons and then some, I decided to give it a go.

The regrets started coming fast and furious the minute I said yes! The fear was paralysing and at some point bordering irrational. Weird thoughts like “what if people didn’t like the sound of my voice?" Self doubt like “she’s done this podcast thousands of times over, what do I have that is so special to bring to the table?” It’s a live podcast, there are no re-takes, what if people think I’m boring, what if I did the worst podcast ever as I've never done one and its not something you get to practice!

To compensate for my fears, I prepared and prepared and worked and reworked from the list of “potential” questions and listened to Sheena's previous podcast guests (all of whom are fabulous in their respective fields, and I felt even tinier than before I started listening).

Fast forward to the day of the podcast, I was a giant ball of nervous energy (shhhh: if you listen to the podcast, you'll hear the nervous laughter!!) As Sheena Skyped me and we chatted for a few minutes before going live, she told me that she was in the Philippines visiting her family and so her "Tech support and equipment” was not her usual standard, but she was pushing forward anyway. Strangely enough that calmed me down. I saw how another woman was showing up and doing her thing, even though not everything was “up to par” and a switch turned on inside me. I can do this. We’ll get through it, Everything will be alright, we’ll live through it, we’ll learn we’ll be fine.

Honestly the tech meltdown happened 3 times before we finally managed to get the show on the road, but it was worth it. We felt so accomplished, we said our goodbyes and we moved on. Will our paths ever collide again, I don’t know, but I am glad that for those few minutes we had with each other, we both chose to show up and do our best to help each other on the journey.

So CLICK to listen to the podcast and tell me your thoughts in the comments below, would love to hear from you.

 

Cheers,

Elsie

Of Sowing & Reaping

We’re still in the midst of the 15 days of Lunar New Year, so Gong Xi Fa Cai!! I hope you had a wonderful time visiting family and friends, and enjoyed all the LNY delicacies.

This Chinese New Year season, as our family went about our reunion dinners and visitations, I’m reminded of this age-old principle of sowing and reaping. As I sat and chatted about old times with my aunties, uncles, cousins, as I carried grandnieces and took countless wefies with various sides of the extended families, I realised how blessed we are as a family - our parents, our grandparents had laboured to keep the family ties strong. Every new year as we exchanged stories of days gone by (some would call them old grandmother stories), I’ve learnt to appreciate that these stories were weaved with real people in them! It’s not Korean drama or reality TV. Its real life!!

These last few days, as we poured over old photographs filled with beehive hairstyles and can-can skirts, as we laughed over the bad fashion mistakes of our youth - we had lots of fun reminiscing the old days. As family sagas get retold, the essence of family togetherness gets filtered into our DNA and that’s something I’ve come to look forward to every Chinese New Year.

Instead of simply going through the motion of reunion dinners silently with family members who are practically strangers in our day-to-day lives, why not try to piece the family tree together? Who married whom, who are their kids, whose grandparents left their home country (China, India, Taiwan, Malaysia) to come to Singapore – or whose families have migrated where and why. Play the six degrees of separation game and you’ll discover that we’re all not that different after all ;)

This year was especially heart-warming for us because this year, we decided to host our family party even though we had no helper. Firstly, let me qualify that I am not a party animal. We do 2 parties a year, one for Christmas and one for Chinese New Year for our close friends and relatives, so that everyone has a relaxing time catching up with each other over home-cooked food. Generally, its free and easy and the turnout varies between lunch till dinner, about 50 –100 guests.

I pondered long and hard about doing the party this year because without a capable helper, cooking for 100pax is no mean feat and not something we’ve attempted before and catering is not an option –period. The family supported the decision and so we trudged forward. 3 generations cooking together for the first time in the kitchen, we went on countless trips to the wet markets and supermarkets.

Though in the end, we managed to hire a helper, she would have been lost if not for the support of my friends who didn’t just come for the party but showed up with food, drinks and even their helpers to help. Everyone was so supportive, thoughtful and understanding, I was floored by all the love and understanding that I received. I thought I was giving, in actual fact, I received so much more than I gave. It was the most disorganised party I’ve ever done (we ran out of rice and wine!!) but it was the one party I’ll remember for the rest of my life!

At the end of the party as my god-daughter was leaving, she showed me a delicate bracelet she was wearing and that really made my day. It was the first present I gave her, when she was one month old - a charm bracelet with butterflies and marigolds – the emblems of our business which we registered as Butterflies & Marigolds Pte Ltd the year she was born. She’s kept it safe all this while, waiting for the day she’s able wear it – and wear it well, she did.

It has been my privilege to sow into the lives of my friends and families, and they into mine. I pray that we’ll always be able and willing to continue to do the same for a long long time. But this year, I want to say that the pleasure of reaping a bountiful harvest from seeds sown a long time ago, is overflowing in my heart and too precious to put into words.

Have a fabulous February, friends ;)

Cheers,

Elsie

PS: next year, I’ll start planning my CNY menu earlier!!

Chinese New Year Greetings

Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions, visitations, feasting and celebrations. In last week’s blog I wrote about my struggle to walk the line between standards and sustainability, between perfection and progress

Lunar New Year seems to be the festive period for reporting. Well meaning relatives ask the usual: “Graduate from University already?”, “Go National Service already?”, “Got boyfriend already?”, “Getting married already?”, “Got baby already?”… the list is endless, and even if you’ve answered “YES” to every one of these questions, more will be added UNTIL you give a negative reply. Then they cluck their commiserations accordingly, encourage you to try harder in your “area of lack” – regardless of your reasons, and next year when Chinese New Year comes around, they probably won’t remember the conversation and redo the same drill all over again!

Whether it’s a case of poor social skills, bad communication or honest to goodness - curiosity, this repeated line of questioning used to get on my nerves and put my defences on high alert. Perhaps it’s an age thing, but recently, I caught myself verbalising similar “busybody auntie” questions when my son’s friends recently came to hang out and I was shocked! When did this happen? I could see the kids doing their best to accommodate my queries as politely as they could, (squirming while they were at it), and I thought to myself in equal parts of horror: “Why am I doing this?” and warped vindication “Now, do you know how I felt back then?”

Please write and tell me in the comments below that I’m not alone with the weird family interrogation routines over Chinese New Year ;) Whatever your relatives are like, this Chinese New Year, let’s decide from DAY 1 to celebrate FAMILY and enjoy each other’s company – similarities, differences, weird bits and all!

Here at B&M, we’ve put together a short CNY video, complete with auspicious Chinese New Year greetings to wish everybody an amazing grand entrance into the year of the rooster! May you enjoy prosperity in every way – body, mind, soul and spirit, and everyday of this Chinese New Year!

Gong Xi Fa Cai, everybody!!

Lunar New Year Angst All Over Again!

Here in Singapore, we celebrate 2 New Year(s) almost back to back. That’s because 80% of our population is of Chinese descent, so Lunar New Year - which usually takes place between end January and early February, depending on the Lunar calendar, is celebrated arguably more enthusiastically than Christmas & New Year’s Day.

We spring clean our homes, dress ourselves and our children in new clothes, so that by and large, we make ourselves “presentable” during the festive season.

Traditionally, during Lunar New Year, we have reunion dinners with families, we visit relatives over the “official” 15 days of Lunar New Year, we wear new clothes, we give (and receive) Ang Pows – which are auspicious gifts of money placed in red packets given by married couples to kids, unmarried siblings, relatives and friends. Some of us also give red packets to our parents and grandparents as a token of our appreciation for their love and care. We bring and exchange mandarin oranges (which are symbols of prosperity) when we visit our relatives. We bake/buy cookies to entertain friends and families when they visit us. Therein lies my first issue of 2017.

How much cleaning is too much? How much tidying is too much? If I’m so busy doing the cleaning, marketing and the baking until the joy of anticipating a wonderful family dinner is overtaken by overwhelm and tiredness, I’ve crossed my personal limits. By the time the grouchy me surfaces and starts to snap at innocent bystanders, I know I have to cut back on my cookie baking agendas. 

 The Blank Slate, Cashew Nut Cookies, Cheese, Chocolate Chips, Burnt Cashew Nut Cookies, Chilli Powder - all necesssary ingredients for Lunar New Year celebrations! 

The Blank Slate, Cashew Nut Cookies, Cheese, Chocolate Chips, Burnt Cashew Nut Cookies, Chilli Powder - all necesssary ingredients for Lunar New Year celebrations! 

This year, one of my first dilemmas for 2017 is – whether I’m alright being invisible? Am I contented working behind the scene, doing all the preparations for Lunar New Year festivities, so that everybody has a good time? I briefly wondered if I was ok about my efforts towards our preparations, not being acknowledged by my own and whether I will feel taken for granted?

The perfectionist in me had trouble letting go of my personal standards. For example, in previous years, I expect the floors to be vacuumed, mopped and cleaned in a certain way according to my timeline. The leather sofas and dining tables have to be wiped and polished my way. My children had to pick clothes that meet my style expectations. I realize I leave very little room for others to shine differently from me and it was frustrating us all!

So this year, I came to a new Lunar New Year conclusion. If we’re not happy to do the cleaning, cooking and baking as a family, we’re not doing it. I’m not going to bake and giveaway bitter cookies to anyone. We can always buy ready-made ones! I’m not going to cook reunion dinners that make my whole family miserable because I’ve overextended myself. We agreed to simplify our reunion dinner menu to something we can comfortably manage, so that everybody (including myself) can enjoy.

Let’s face it. At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought, what we got; but what we shared; not our competence and our standards but our love and our values.

This Lunar New Year, I want to do stuff that matters to my family joyfully. I want to be authentic and live a life I’m proud of, so that everybody in my family can really enjoy a happy New Year together.

Gong Xi Fai Cai everybody! 家和万事兴! 

How to Choose a Cheongsam / Qipao

With Christmas out of the way and Lunar New Year round the corner, I thought this is a perfect time to offer some tips for selecting a Cheongsam or “Qipao” – the national costume of China, as some of us may be interested to shop for one to wear for Lunar New Year festivities.

Although the Cheongsam/Qipao is designed to flatter the feminine body, few of us has the perfect figure to carry it off well. Here are some guidelines that can help you choose the right Cheongsam for your body shape so that your Cheongsam will accentuate your assets and gloss over your flaws.

There are few unique style elements of Cheongsam such as the collar, the sleeves, the buttons, the length and the slit of the dress.

Let’s start from the top, ie the collar of the Cheongsam. Traditionally, the collar of Cheongsam is high and fits tightly around the neck. The edges of the collar are shaped as a semicircle, flattering the soft and slender neck of women. There is usually a Chinese knot button at the base of the collar which adds an interesting detail.

 The “V” opening of the neckline elongates the face and neck, making us appear slimmer!

The “V” opening of the neckline elongates the face and neck, making us appear slimmer!

Obviously, women with longer necks will look fabulous wearing the high collar Cheongsams, however those of us with rounder faces and shorter necks do have alternatives to choose from. Simply pick a Cheongsam with lower collar or collarless design and make the “V” opening of the neckline a little deeper. This little trick will elongate our faces and necks, thus making us appear slimmer!

The length of sleeves is another unique element of the Cheongsam. There are generally 3 lengths: short sleeves, three-quarter sleeves and sleeveless. Women with slim arms will look great in sleeveless styles, while those of us who are concerned about flabby arms and bulky shoulders would be more comfortable with short or three-quarter sleeves to camouflage our wobbly bits. Those of us with slopping shoulders may want to consider adding shoulder pads under our Cheongsams, while those of us with broader shoulders will look much better without them.

cheongsam03.jpg

One of the sexiest details of the Cheongsam is high slits on both sides, designed to display slender legs and also for ease of movement. Nowadays, Cheongsams usually come in different lengths - above the knee, midi and floor length. The slits are placed differently too: 2 side slits, 1 side slit, front slit or back slit. Of course, if you have beautiful long legs, any length is fine and any slit placement will be alright. For the rest of us (and those who are vertically challenged), knee length Cheongsams are the most universally flattering fit. For the pear-shaped women, a straight-cut Cheongsams with side slits are more forgiving.

If you’re going to buy only 1 or 2 Cheongsams, pick a better fabric like silk or brocade. These are classic styles and the better material will hold well over time. Traditionally, Cheongsams were made of silk however, I find that silk (especially shiny ones) are more suitable for skinny women. This is because the smooth and shiny silk material will highlight the lumps and bumps of those of us who are not so slim! Do take note that silk is more expensive and requires dry-cleaning.

 Brocades are heavier, hence they hold their shape better.

Brocades are heavier, hence they hold their shape better.

Brocades and jacquards are also good fabric choices for Cheongsams. These are heavier fabrics, hence they hold their shape better than the soft and delicate silk ones. However, these tend to look more formal, because designers like to stitch raised embroidery patterns on them with gold or silver threads.

cheongsam06.jpg

Let’s talk a little about colour choices. Red is probably the most popular colour, because the Chinese believe that wearing red will bring prosperity and good luck. Just make sure that you don’t look like a waitress in a Chinese restaurant! Bright reds are suitable for brides, pinks are great for slimmer and younger ladies, while more matured women look elegant and dignified in dark reds and purple hues. Larger women look slimmer in darker shades, like black, navy or pewter.

Lastly, the embroideries and prints on cheongsams are symbolic and related to the Chinese culture too. For example, the peony flower very popular it is China’s national flower - it symbolizes prosperity and wealthy. The lotus flower on the other hand symbolizes purity and beauty. Wearing chrysanthemums represents joy and longevity. Fishes - prosperity as the Chinese pronunciation of fish: “yu” means abundance. The dragon symbolizes the supreme power of the emperor. In ancient times, only nobleman and officials can wear dragon designs while the imperial concubines, princesses and diplomatic wives will wear the accompanying phoenix designs.

Well, that’s it for today’s blog. Did you find it interesting? Will you be wearing a cheongsam this Lunar New Year? If you are, I’d love to see your cheongsam choices! Please take a selfie and tag us on instagram #bnmcheongsamchallenge.

Happy 2017 everybody! May your new year be filled with joy overflowing, abundance and prosperity! Enjoy a fabulous week ahead, peeps ;)

Holiday Lessons for a Happy New Year!

Greetings from Hokkaido!

One of the non-negotiables when I started my own business more than a decade ago, was to be able to go for an annual family holiday. When the kids were younger, we’ll pack them off to nearby places like Sentosa, Genting and various parts of Malaysia, just to enjoy each other’s company and have some family bonding time. As the kids grew and while the grandparents are able, I want to keep the tradition of travelling as a family – young and old – see the world, experience different cultures, food and weather because I believe that travel (physically) takes us away from our work, our routines, our problems etc and opens our eyes and spirit to enjoy the vast and beautiful world God created, that most times we’re not even aware of or too busy to notice.

This year, we choose to go to Hokkaido because we wanted to see snow and enjoy the food!! Living in the tropics where it’s humid and hot everyday, packing off for temperatures below zero Celsius was going outside the comfort zones for us. Of course, the kids were excited and I wanted to “show them the world” but there was a little part of me that was also concern about the cold, whether the old folks will be alright walking in the snow. Do we need snow shoes? Winter coats? Heat pads? Hats? Scarves? Did I bite off more than I can chew? Anyway, for better or for worse, I forged forward because I didn’t want to disappoint the family who were all expecting a white Christmas.

On the first day we arrived, we found out that cold winds were coming our way, maybe a typhoon or a blizzard. I read that hundreds of flights were getting cancelled in the very airport we arrived in and thousands of passengers were stranded. Great news for starting a holiday! But I refused to let it dampen our family holiday (Anyway, what could I do? We were already there!) and went ahead with our itinerary anyway.

One lesson I gleaned from this holiday is that at the end of the day, the best of plans is just that - a plan. We’ve all heard the saying “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, but this holiday reminded me that even with the best of plans, things may still not work out. We can’t control the weather. When will it snow? - so we can go skiing or when will the sun shine? - so we can see the lovely animals at the winter zoo. Just because we put it in an itinerary, doesn’t mean it’ll happen accordingly.

We need to realise and accept that some things are not within our control. We braved a blizzard to visit a quaint town called Otaru near Sapporo, just because it was on our itinerary and our timing was tight, we didn’t get to enjoy much sightseeing and we almost couldn’t get back to Sapporo because the trains got cancelled due to bad weather! We ended up taking the bus back, it took us 4 hours instead of 1 hour by train to make our way back, not to mention the stress and the squeeze with all other stranded tourists that day.

On hindsight, it was not a clever decision to insist on sticking to the plan, just for the sake of it. We could have had a more enjoyable day just hanging out in the city instead. Squeezing it in, forcing it through doesn’t produce the best results. Thank God we got back alright, (I think there were other tourists that were left stranded in Otaru and had to find last minute accommodations for the night!), but we were wet, cold and hungry, and it wasn’t wise use of our time at all! In 2017, I resolve to plan well but leave room for flexibility. I will hustle my bustle for the business and enter into projects with more mindfulness. If the door doesn’t open, I’ll choose to believe that there’s something better on the way and graciously bow out, rather than bash my way through or overstay my welcome.

IMG_8213.jpg

Another huge lesson from this trip was the dedication and level of excellence the Japanese have for their passions. We chanced upon a tiny DIY maple wood aeroplane booth at a Christmas market and I wanted to buy one as a present. As we conversed with the owner, we came to know that he makes these aeroplane models by hand, one at a time and an engine can take him up to a month to put together! Not only that, the combination of paper and wood, is carefully thought out so that the planes can fly when you throw them, yet they are not easily damaged or broken – he “created” and patented his paper! And he has a day job (because although creating and selling aeroplanes is his passion, he is fully aware that sales from that little booth, is not enough for him to make a living), and he looks like he’s 60 years old! He says he won’t ask his “art” to “make money” for him, because then it will kill his joy of creating planes.

I was blown away by his commitment to his craft - his practical mind-set of separating his passion and his living, and his ability to balance both. I am reminded how blessed I am to be able to do what I love AND make a living out of it. I really should count my blessings and be grateful – it is my passion and my living and I should learn to enjoy the journey more, even if there are challenges in 2017.

On one of our last excursions, we visited a Ninja Museum and chanced upon a half frozen lake where some fishes were still swimming. Grandma commented: “Oh the poor things, the water must be freezing!”. The kids replied: “What do you expect them to do, they’re fishes!” I don’t know much about fishes or the intricacies of hibernation etc. but it got me thinking about our human perspectives and how it steers our thinking. We feel the freezing temperatures, so we conclude that the fishes are cold too, hence we feel “pity” for them.

My limited understanding of science is that humans are warm blooded but fishes are cold blooded so we feel cold but they bear it much better than us, scientifically speaking. However, we “filter” situations through our knowledge and personal experiences, but these could have been tinted through the years and may not point true north. Is it possible that some of the stuff we think, worry about, are just left baggage from years before? Is it time to clean house? Wipe the slates clean as we enter 2017 - take time to list and let go of the past hurts, failures and lost opportunities. Allow ourselves to heal. Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means that the damage no longer controls your life.

I discovered I love snow. The pristine white blanket of fresh snow covering everything in sight, makes the scenery look so fresh, so cool, so clean. It makes me believe that a fresh start is possible and only a choice away. I’m making mine today, will you join me and make it a Happy New Year for you too?

Cheers,

Elsie

Happy Christmas Everyone!

This is the first time in 12 years that the entire B&M team got together and sang a “Merry Christmas“ greeting. For the more observant ones, you may have noticed that we’re dressed in the same clothes as the “Christmas Launch” advert we did in November, that’s because this video was filmed on the same day! I’ll let you in on a secret too – while filming the advert took ahem "many many takes", the video you just watched was "take one only"! 

It just goes to show (what a wacky bunch we are ?!) How excited we all were to celebrate Christmas! It’s truly the happiest season of all. Somehow I find that Christmas gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us. It’s a time when we can look back on the year that has passed and prepare for the year ahead.

As a Christian, I believe that Christmas is the day of Jesus was born. To me, Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God and family, to create memories that will last forever. Even if you are not religious, Christmas is a season to be surrounded by loved ones, of sharing and caring, and giving of ourselves.

It was Oprah Winfrey who wrote in her book “What I Know For Sure”, that when you make loving others the story of your life, there’s never a final chapter, because the legacy continues. She says you lend your light to one person, and he or she shines it on another and another and another.

I believe, that in the final analysis of our lives - when the to-do lists are no more, when our email inboxes are empty – the only thing that will have any lasting value is whether we’ve loved others and whether they’ve loved us.

So this year, I choose to honour Christmas in my heart and to keep it all the year. And of all the good stuff I can wish for you this holiday season, clique as it may be, I am sincere when I say, I wish you love.

From all of us at Butterflies & Marigolds, a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Cheers,

Elsie

 

Project Battambang

What a week it has been! We went off for our Lunar New Year buy in the midst of our Christmas promotions and were fortunate enough to score a lovely range of Cheongsams (will share more of this later)! Then we dashed back just in time to participate in a fundraising event in support of Project Battambang, a non-profit community project started by the volunteers of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS), in the rural districts of Battambang, Cambodia.

We had been selling tickets and collecting donations from friends, VIPs, and customers 2 weeks leading to the event and I was privileged to be invited as one of the speakers for the evening. It was another milestone for me – presenting my wardrobe and style ideas in front of a live audience – and I was very apprehensive about my speech prior to the event.

At one point, I briefly considered excusing myself as a speaker, quoting jetlag (it is true I took a redeye flight back less than 24hrs ago and I was slightly under the weather), but I thought about the faces of the Cambodian children I saw on the Project Battambang YouTube and I knew I had to do the right thing - deliver my speech the best I could despite the circumstances.

Anyway, I am happy to report that the event (and my speech) went well. A big thank you to our customers that bought tickets, gave donations and showed up to support us. We are touched by your generosity and I’m personally very encouraged to do even more good for the needy around us.

The following are some candid photos and highlights of the event. When we tally up the donations and ticket sales for the event, we’ll keep you all posted.

 Dr Gary Tho – author of "The Pain-Free Desk Warrior, Free Yourself from Aches and Pains!"  teaching us the importance of posture. 

Dr Gary Tho – author of "The Pain-Free Desk Warrior, Free Yourself from Aches and Pains!"  teaching us the importance of posture. 

 Ms Cheryl Liew-Chng – author of "The 24 Hour Woman", giving us 3 questions to ask ourselves as we look forward to 2017.

Ms Cheryl Liew-Chng – author of "The 24 Hour Woman", giving us 3 questions to ask ourselves as we look forward to 2017.

 Volunteers of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS), sharing with us their personal experiences in Battambang.

Volunteers of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS), sharing with us their personal experiences in Battambang.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  Little old me sharing how to detox your wardrobe and be remarkable everyday.

Little old me sharing how to detox your wardrobe and be remarkable everyday.

 Our lovely B&M gals - Anna and Selly doing their bit for charity :) 

Our lovely B&M gals - Anna and Selly doing their bit for charity :) 

 A glass of lean water – something we take for granted here in Singapore, brings so much joy to the children in Battambang.

A glass of lean water – something we take for granted here in Singapore, brings so much joy to the children in Battambang.

 Dr Steven Ng of Gentle Dental, giving away the lucky draw prizes of “The 24 Hour Woman” book, and “The A-Z Wardrobe Planner”.

Dr Steven Ng of Gentle Dental, giving away the lucky draw prizes of “The 24 Hour Woman” book, and “The A-Z Wardrobe Planner”.

 A captive audience is a speaker’s pleasure and assurance that they are interested in what we have to share.

A captive audience is a speaker’s pleasure and assurance that they are interested in what we have to share.

I believe we rise by helping others. One point worthy of remark is that the monies raised do NOT go to fund the volunteers air tickets or accommodations in Cambodia. They give of their own time and finances to make their way there. It goes directly to the education, health screening and care of the patients – young and old in Battambang. They are not a listed charity organization (they started as a project in NUS medical school) but we have a personal friend who has gone on one of their volunteer trips, seen the extend of poverty and need there - that is why we are so enthusiastic to help in whatever way we can

If any of you are interested to learn more about Project Battambang, do visit their Website and Facebook for more information.

It’s a week before Christmas, friends, take time to soak in the festivities, enjoy the laughter and love of friends and family. Here’s wishing you all an unforgettable Christmas filled with joy, peace and all you hold dear.

Deck the Halls!

Every year as December comes along, those of us living in the tropics will dream of holidaying somewhere where we can experience a white Christmas complete with powdered snow on alpine slopes and fire places in wooden cabins, while our temperate climate friends think where’s the shovel, more work to do!

But regardless of where we are in the world, we unanimously agree that Christmas is only the season where everybody goes all out with the decorations. From shopping malls, to exercise gyms, restaurants to hotels, every urban city and theme park has a Christmas theme and special Christmas events and parties, making Christmas the most internationally decorated and celebrated holiday of all!

As a child growing up, my mother refused to allow us to put up Christmas decorations in the home (not even a Christmas tree) – her practical logic being that what goes up, must get taken down and packed (till next year) and we didn’t have much storage space. Anyway, perhaps because of that, I’m really enthusiastic and hands on when it comes to our Christmas décor in our boutiques

Over the years, I’ve used reindeers, snowman, Christmas trees, angels, hollies, fresh poinsettia, fake snow and of course lots and lots of Christmas baubles to decorate our boutiques and home. Every year, I promise to discard some of the older pieces, but I always end up buying more replacements … my elderly mum gives me the eye when I pack these ornaments into the storeroom after Christmas but these days I’ve learnt to suffer the silent “I told you so” treatment gladly.

Here’s a candid video of our staff changing out the boutiques with our Christmas collection. I know things will get messy come Christmas morning with torn gift wrappers and half eaten candy attracting ants. There’ll be leftovers to clear in the fridge, hungover friends and family crashing at our place, but its’ evidence that we’re surrounded by loved ones and that we’re secure enough in each other’s presence to let it all hang out on Boxing Day!

Our countdown for Christmas has begun. Are you ready for your Christmas holidays? If it’s a special outfit that your looking for, why not drop at our boutiques and let us dress you in your best for the most wonderful season of all?

Tick tock tick tock ;)

Happy Holidays ;)

Our Fave Outfits This Christmas

Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!!

December is finally here and Christmas is just round the corner! A couple of weeks ago, we had a blast launching our Christmas Collection at our Marina Bay Link Mall boutique. We had a good time mingling with our VIPs who got to preview our full Christmas Collection amidst some sumptuous cakes and bubbly Prosecco! In case you missed the event, here are some candid photos of our celebrations.

This week, I thought it would be fun to share our team’s personal favourites from our Christmas Collection and offer my (ahem!!) professional stylist insights about their choices. Our lovely ladies gladly obliged with an impromptu photoshoot, and viola! here are their fave picks for the season!

(Important note: In the interest of authenticity, the ladies were given a free hand in their selection. This is not a “guided tour”!)

Selly selected this cute red and white striped knit top that comes with a matching red and black polka dotted necktie (which incidentally can also double up as a hair band or tie). I think this top works great for her bubbly personality, the red horizontal stripes are attractive and adds presence, as Selly is rather petite in person.

Anna selected this colourful hoodie with pouch pockets, vertical stripes and some texture. I think it’s a smart choice because the bold vertical stripes make Anna look taller than she actually is! Also, the cheerful pop of colour on top, attracts people’s attention to her face, where she always has a brilliant smile to welcome everybody into our boutiques.

It was love at first sight for Grace, with this gorgeous tri-coloured scalloped lace dress. Ever the practical gal, she decided that this dress was a good buy because you can wear it for Christmas and for Lunar New Year (because of the higher collar, it somehow does resemble a cheongsam).

Grace also selected this cool grey pinstriped dress (New discovery - I guess our ladies love stripes!! ) and accessorised it with metal jewelry.

Jean selected this drop-waisted printed dress and matched it with a bolero cardigan, because she was conscious of her arms. The straight dress with no defined waist is a wise choice for her as it skims her body and does not bring attention to her tummy, which is a area of concern.

Selly’s next pick was a cute polka-dotted mini dress with swans embroidered on the collar. It’s a whimsical style – very B&M – because we believe life is too short to wear boring clothes, so there’s always something special, something interesting, something different in our designs. Wear this dress if you want to be as graceful as a swan, but cute too! (as she is!)

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An interesting point to highlight is that the size of the print in Jean and Selly’s choices is proportional to their individual physiques. Jean being taller looks good in the larger print, while Selly being petite looks fine in her little polka dots. Should they have exchanged their selections, even if they wore the right size clothes, the larger print would have completely overwhelmed Selly’s small frame, and the tiny dots would have made Jean look larger than she actually was. Generally speaking, if you’re going for prints, my tip would be to pick a print no larger than the size of your clenched fist. 

Anna’s next pick was this classic crew neck cardigan, in Café Mocca. These cardigans come in Ruby Red and Midnight Blue too! Since it’s the holiday season, our cardigans come with lurex threads to add some shine to your festive outfit, but they’re understated enough for you to wear them long after the Christmas parties are over. Again, Anna has kept the shiny bits on top and she’s kept the bottom black and minimal, so that attention is kept on her face – where she wants it to be.

For her next outfit, Jean chose this tie-dye cardigan in a combination of leave green shades. Although it was a round-neck cardigan, she unbuttoned the top 2 buttons, creating a V neckline which elongates her neck and slims her face. The stripped piping detail of the placket also helps to direct the eyes vertically, which helps to create the illusion of a slimmer figure too.

Finally, Grace picked this delicate lace dress with scalloped hem. It’s a very feminine piece (I think its great for meeting the parents, or a cocktail event!), but this one is hand-washable and the lace is super comfortable – not the kind that scratches and itches at all!

So, what do you think of our picks for the season? Which one was your favourite look? Write and let me know in the comments below. I’ll love to hear from you. Also, if you have a styling question, or would like to do a personal styling session with me, click here to email us. 

That’s it for this week my friends.

Have a fabulous December!

Cheers, Elsie

How to Shop for an Evening Dress

Perhaps this is the time when more of us are shopping for formal wear, maybe even a ballgown for your Cinderella grand entrance! With Proms, Christmas, New Year celebrations and company D&Ds, there’s always an excuse to up the glam game and squeeze in a gorgeous dress for your diva princess moments at the year-end party.

On the other hand, if you’re Miss Practical (as am I), you may be searching for something presentable, re-wearable, that doesn’t make you look like what the cat dragged in. However, vanity does not allow you to wear that same black dress for the 3rd year running to the office party yet again and you don’t want to spend too much money on something you’ll only wear once (or twice) in a year! Whatever your predicament, here are my best tips when it comes to shopping for an evening dress.

1. Shop for it when you don’t need it.

I know this may be advice given too late at this point, but really, evening gown shopping is best done when there is no immediate or urgent need. We don’t want to be that stressed-out drama queen, with a timer ticking at the back of our heads because we know we need to look like Beyonce TOMORROW for a red carpet event and at today’s lunchtime, we’re still madly scouring the racks hoping to find a gown that 1) makes us look amazing, 2) doesn’t constrict blood circulation and 3) doesn’t break the bank. If this is you and you’re saying, well and good, next year I’ll take your advice, but I need help NOW - then here’s my suggestion in one word: RENT. That’s right, you can always rent a gown, just this once, brides do it all the time - wear it and return it! No long-term love affair needed, no huge investments necessary, just like it enough to rent it for a night. Or better yet, borrow one from a girlfriend who’s about your size.

2. Find a dress that flatters your best feature.  

Let me explain. Say you have nice shoulders, then perhaps you want to look for a strapless gown that will showcase them or if you have a sexy back, then perhaps a dress with a low back feature will accentuate your back. Maybe you have amazing legs, then selecting a gown with thigh high slits will amp up your sex appeal. Bear in mind that its best to decide on ONE body part you want to accentuate and find a dress which suitably highlights that well.

Don’t get a dress that has a plunging neckline, a cinched in waistline, with thigh high slits and in a see-through material with strategically placed sequins, unless you intend to cameo for a stage show in Las Vegas! Too many accents will end up being a distraction, so go with 1 or at most 2 best features to accentuate and shoot for sexy and confident, not tarty and uncomfortable.

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If you can keep your game face on and rock this dress, more power to you, go ahead and rock it! But if not, no matter the rave reviews - yours is the only opinion that counts, so get something that you’ll feel confident and comfortable in, not exposed and vulnerable.

3. Find a dress that flatters your complexion.

 Yes, it’s a black dress, but she’s accessorised with George Clooney, who’s gonna top that?! AND Cate Blanchett got Tiffany’s round her neck, that’s gonna to blast off any competition right?

Yes, it’s a black dress, but she’s accessorised with George Clooney, who’s gonna top that?! AND Cate Blanchett got Tiffany’s round her neck, that’s gonna to blast off any competition right?

Let me qualify that I have nothing against black. In fact, black forms the backbone of my personal wardrobe. I mean, there is a reason why “black-tie” is used as a dress code to describe the ultimate in formalwear right? But, it’s harder to stand out from the crowd if one is dressed in a black evening gown, because chances are, there’ll be more people dressed in black than any other color – hence more competition for attention. My take will be if you’re going to buy a black gown (any gown for that matter actually, but doubly so if its black!) make sure you love it, make sure you look impeccable in it, so that you’ll have the self- confidence to know that every time you wear it, you’ll crush the competition.

Otherwise, I would suggest that you choose a darker color that flatters your complexion or one of my personal favourite color tips, try something in the jewel tones family. I prefer darker (rather than lighter or brighter colors) because I’m a firm believer of Murphy’s Law - anything that can go wrong will!

Darker shades camouflage wine spills and other sauce related accidents much better than lighter and brighter colors. I’ve seen lots of K-drama actresses that look fabulous in white gowns but I’m such a klutz, I don’t think I can carry white off with peace of mind and confidence, more likely, I’ll be a nervous wreck, just anticipating a bumbling waiter to walk right into me with a tray full of food and drinks.

4. Go for quality and timeless fabrics.

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If you foresee that you will not need to wear evening gowns too often, select one in a fabric that is relatively season-less like silk or chiffon. I would also suggest going with a solid color rather than prints, although if you want to push the envelope and go with prints, make sure the prints are not loud and gawdy. Pick timeless prints for example stripes, dots or checks but make sure you pass on prints that will mark an “era” because these will make the gown look dated very quickly.

5. Keep It Simple Sweetheart (KISS!)

It’s always tempting to get carried away with “SALE” signs and settle for a gown (since you won’t wear it so often anyway) in a slightly funny shade or with a little too much risk of exposure or beading or embroidery etc, and yet because of the attractive price tag, you decide that you can work around it. If you only need a couple of evening dresses to complement your lifestyle needs, choose simple and elegant gowns without fussy details.

Avoid the ruffles, multi-colored sequins, heavy beading etc. This way, you can always wear different accessories – statement necklaces, cocktail rings, shoulder duster earrings, add a clutch bag, a shawl or a plush fur coat, sexy heels or style your hair and makeup differently to get maximum mileage from the same evening gown.

So these are my top 5 tips what to look out for when shopping for evening gowns. I hope you have fun if you are indeed looking for one. Let me know in the comments below if you find any of these tips helpful or if you have other tips or experiences to share with us about shopping for eveningwear.

By the way, I share these tips and other style secrets in my book “The A-Z Wardrobe”, so if you’re looking for gift ideas for your fashionable friends this Christmas, why not gift this book to them. I know there’re lots of good style books out there in the market – but this one’s a concise style guide, a quick and practical read, and I know it’s good – coz I wrote it!! (insert wink emoji!!) ), so I’ll be thrilled if you support my writing, and buy a few as gifts for your friends and family this Christmas!

Cheers!

Elsie

PS: 30% of the book sale from now to 31 Dec 2016 will be donated to Touch Community Services, a Not For Profit organisation based in Singapore, which we’ve been supporting since the start of our business in 2005. This year, as part of their Christmas initiative, TCS is seeking support to help some 2,600 frail and homebound seniors who require home medical and nursing. We want to use our expertise and our influence to extend practical help to those within our own community, we rise by lifting others, so in the season of giving, please contribute generously.

Behind the Scenes - Christmas Launch

After 3 years in Marina Bay Link Mall, we finally did a Christmas Launch there yesterday and were mighty pleased with the turn out, despite it being a very last minute put-together affair. So in this week’s blog, which is overdue because we were busy planning our launch, I thought I'll write a candid post about what happened behind scenes of our Christmas Launch and my own 2 cents worth of takeaways from this experience.

  Calm before the party :) 

Calm before the party :) 

1. Be Adaptable

Firstly, failing to plan is planning to fail. However, even with the best plans, things don’t always happen according to plan. With our Christmas Launch, we had planned to give away our lovely A-Z Post-it as door gifts way back in October. We specially designed and printed them, we thought things through, they were on-point, relevant and apt for the season. But, they were massively delayed because of a quality issue and so we couldn’t confirm our launch date because we didn’t want to risk a situation where we invited all our VIPs and couldn’t give them our Christmas “gift” because it didn’t arrive! Of course we could have compromised and came up with some other gift or simply give a direct purchase discount - but that’s so common these days and we wanted to stay true to our originality so we delayed our Christmas Launch to accommodate our specially designed "gift".

  Specially designed Christmas gifts. 

Specially designed Christmas gifts. 

2. Don't Underestimate Good Vibes and Laughter

Come join us for our Christmas Launch - Friday 18th Nov, 6pm at B2-30 Marina Bay Link Mall.

Since we’re a small business, we don’t have deep pockets for A&P. However, everybody’s on the social media bandwagon and so we thought we’ll try our hand at producing our own FB advert to invite our friends and VIPs for our launch. We are all newbies doing video but we had a blast doing the script and our very sporting sales staff, gladly took their turns in front of our iPhone cameras for their very first video recording. I think we had more bloopers and blunders than actual advertisement footage, but we all had so much fun doing the video – we were laughing with each other - the experience of learning something new together and the team bonding is probably worth more than those corporate team-building courses. 

Don’t take our word for it, check out our bloopers photos below ;)

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3. It’s all About Teamwork

When it comes to running a business – any business, its all about the team. No matter how able, smart, rich ..... insert your adjectives, no one can do it alone.

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The power of a successful business depends very much on how engaged the team is towards achieving the goals of the business. I guess its in this aspect that B&M really shines and this Christmas Launch was a great reminder for me how much I enjoy doing this business - in part because of the excellent team we have. People say that if you get to do what you love and love what you do, you’re blessed. Well, I get to do what I love and love what I do, AND I get to do it with a team of women who also do what they love and love what they do ..... so as a team we are DOUBLY BLESSED! 

 Taking selfie and wefie together :) 

Taking selfie and wefie together :) 

4. Create Any Excuse to Celebrate

  Food Glorious Food!!

Food Glorious Food!!

Modern living has us orbiting our own little busy worlds and if we allow ourselves, there’ll always be a reason to put off celebrations. No time, no budget, no manpower etc. Yesterday’s Christmas Launch was a brilliant reminder that we all could do with more celebration in our lives. Time passes however much or little we choose to do with it.

Yesterday, as I watched our VIPs try our merchandise and look good in the clothes we’ve curated specially for the Christmas season, I felt a sense of pride and joy that “Wow! This is my business - I get to do this!” and it’s a feeling I’ve forgotten in recent months, because of the “busy-ness” of running the day-to-day “business”. Celebrations like our Christmas launch, allowed ourselves, our team and our customers some much needed excuse to indulge, pamper and enjoy ourselves a little. That little bit of shared joy and laughter, does wonders for the soul.

5. It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Successful

  Customers shopping our exclusive Christmas Collection! 

Customers shopping our exclusive Christmas Collection! 

Oooo ..... I can always count the ways we got it wrong yesterday.

Books late – check.

Notifications to customers late – check.

Didn’t manage to RSVP everybody – check.

Bad timing, it was the last day of the primary school term and most of our VIPS had school going children – check.

Wrong day for launch – Friday is when most people have drinks and dinner plans – check.

But sometimes, if we go with what could go wrong and wait and wait and wait for a better time, the moment is past and the “right” time may never come. Sure, we can do it better next time and yes there are lessons to be learnt – but, all in all, we’re glad we did it, and given the same set of circumstances, I’ll gladly do it again!

So, a very big thank you to all of you who graced our Christmas Launch yesterday. Your presence really meant a lot to us. Thank you for supporting us and being a part of our local business all these years!

Bringing you some early Christmas Cheer!

PS: For those of our VIPs who couldn’t come for our launch yesterday, we completely understand and we’ve kept aside some goodie bags for you when you come shopping with us this week :))

How To Look Stylish When You Travel

It’s the time of the year to consider holiday travels (after working hard for the entire year) but a common complaint is that packing clothes for a trip can be an incredible hassle. With many airlines charging growing fees for checked baggage, packing has become not just an issue of space but of economics too. When I was younger, the only thing I cared about was how I looked everyday during my holiday (regardless of how heavy my luggage was – or how many pairs of shoes I packed), but now, holiday travels includes the whole shebang - hubby, kids and grandparents, so I’ve learnt to carefully consider what goes into my suitcase — so I can save luggage space, remain stylish and comfortable while leading the family tour!

So in today’s blog, I’ll be sharing some tips and tricks that I’ve acquired along the way to look stylish and effortlessly chic even while traveling.

1. Get The Right Luggage

First things firs - a right suitcase is a must. Wasn't it T.S. Eliot who said, "The journey, not the arrival, matters." Indeed, it is. Consider your journey. If you're going away for three weeks, a hard-sided industrial-size suitcase is appropriate. But bring that on a weekend getaway and you'll look ridiculous. A rolling carry-on will suffice for short trips that involve airline travel or the train.

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Its worth your while to invest in a good quality light-weight suitcase. I recently purchased a medium-sized suitcase but instead of spending an extra $50 on a lighter case I decided to go for a cheaper/heavier option. Big mistake, because now every time I travel with that case I think to myself: "The other case would have been easier to move around with" or "I could have brought back a couple of local wines with that extra weight." Mega boo-boo!

2. Pack Light

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The quickest way to ruin a holiday is to over-pack your suitcase. I know it’s tempting to plan for any possibility when you’re packing - What if it rains? What if I decide to go hiking (even though you’ve never hiked before in your life)? What if we join a cruise and decide to go scuba diving in the ocean, then I’ll need my swimsuit, my towel, my sunhat, sunblock and scuba diving gear!? Trust me, by the time you hop from planes to trains and buses you’ll hate all those clothes you packed "just in case". Also, if you over pack then you’ll have no space left for souvenirs and local fashion finds!

3. Downsize Your Cosmetics Bag

By the way, while we’re on the subject, you can always downsize your beauty bag. Unless you plan on travelling to a desert island, its likely that you’ll be able to pick up popular shampoo or sun lotion brands in almost any corner of the world. Fewer cosmetics also mean that you’ll be less likely to find an explosion of nondescript gooey liquids spoiling everything in your luggage when you arrive at your destination. A good way to cut down on makeup products is to carry a small all-in-one palette with you or to opt for multitasking products (i.e. products that you can use on your face, eye lids and lips). I love those drug store mini travel sized bottles because I can pack small quantities of beauty products that I need for the trip to bring with me instead of the full-sized bottles.

4. Pack A Limited Colour Palette

A great way to ensure that your clothes will be easy to mix and match is to stick to a limited color palette. I’m a big fan of neutrals when I’m traveling so I generally stick with black, navy or beige clothing which I then spice up with interesting accessories. If you like brighter clothes and prints then simply make sure that they are in a similar color palette. I’m a practical gal and travelling with kids have taught me to avoid whites and creams as they will be a pain to keep clean whilst traveling.

5. Pack Mostly Basics And A Few Statement Items

About 70 – 80% of the clothes you pack should be basics. Dark blue jeans, a black skirt, a lovely dress, shorts or a warm coat, depending on the local climate, and a few blouses or knit tops that can all be mixed and matched to fit any occasion. By stocking the majority of your suitcase with basics, you remove the need to pack a different set of clothes for each activity. For example, wearing a plain black or white tank top with some dark jeans or shorts can be perfect for physical activities like hiking, biking, or just exploring a city by foot. That same tank top, when tucked into a black skirt and covered with a cardigan and a scarf, becomes a cute and flirty outfit for a dinner in town.

6. Work With Layers

Even if you’re heading to the tropics, make sure you pack a cardigan for cooler nights and strong air conditioning. Scarves (cardigans or shawls) are another great way to not only face cold conditions but jazz up a neutral outfit. If you’re headed to a very cold country, make sure to bring thermals with you! Style-wise, layering is the key to dressing your outfits up or down. A little black dress for that night on the town, for example, becomes a lot more appropriate for day wear when it’s topped with a cardigan or sweater and worn over dark stockings. Similarly, dark jeans with a plain blouse can quickly become dressed up with a stylish jacket or a cashmere wrap, so pack your vacation wardrobe with layering ideas in mind.

7. Style Up Your Outfits With Accessories

I like to bring less clothes and more jewelry when I’m travelling. Accessories like earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and belts are much easier to pack, they wear less and they provide more options. If you prefer the minimal, fuss-free style, pack a pair of gold or silver studs, a nice pendant necklace or your favourite charm bracelet or an oversized man’s watch. These should cover most of your needs, whether you’re going dressy or casual. You would be surprised how easy it is to do a lot with just a few accessories!

Anyway, if you ever need something flashier or realize you have forgotten something at home, there’s always the opportunity to shop for souvenirs at your destination. Whether it’s a necklace, sunglasses, or a new scarf, chances are that the place you’re going has its own unique style. Purchasing your accessories at your destination can be a fun way of incorporating that local style into your wardrobe, as well as getting a nice memento to bring home with you.

8. Pack NO MORE Than Three Pairs of Shoes

Unless you’ll be travelling for more than a month, across different continents or you’re planning to walk the red carpet during your trip, you do not need to pack more than three pairs of shoes. Instead, pack one pair of flats for walking, one pair of sandals or wedges to dress up and one pair of black pumps for going out. More important than volume is versatility, so make sure you’re not stuck hiking in stilettos by bringing a pair of shoes for every realistic occasion of your trip. Wear your most cumbersome pair on the plane and stuff your socks in the rest to save even more space in your luggage. Furthermore, if you find you really can’t live without another pair then make it your mission to find a great pair of shoes on site. Wherever I go, I usually manage to check out a shoe shop ;) I personally couldn’t think of a better souvenir.

9. Pack Plastic Bags

They may not be great for the environment but plastic bags can be life savers when it comes to traveling. You can use them for all sorts of things such as: separating wet or smelly shoes from the rest of your suitcase, creating a makeshift laundry bag, packing your liquid products to make sure they don’t spill in your bag etc. I always bring spare ziplock plastic bags and nine out of ten trips, I always end up finding new ways of using them.

10. Pack Valuables And A Change of Clothes In The Handcarry

I don’t want to jinx you or anything but suitcases do go missing from time to time. Thankfully airlines find them most of the times but it generally takes a couple of days which is why having a change of clothes in your carry-on is always a good idea. I also like to change half-way through my trip if I’m traveling for more than 12 hours. It feels so nice to put on clean clothes and underwear after a long flight, as I ready myself to meet my holiday.

OK. Those are my top 10 tips for a more stylish holiday. Hope they will be useful as you prepare for your vacations. Have fun, be safe and happy holidays to all!

PS: Don’t forget the first aid kit. Make sure you bring a small bag with the most necessary pills and meds you might need. Nobody should be suffering a severe headache, migrane, fever, upset stomach etc during a holiday. It might be easy to pick up a domestic remedy for your various ailments at home, but medicine in the foreign country may be limited to prescription only. Same goes for allergy meds and asthma remedies, make sure you bring them on board.

How to Shop for Quality

I can’t believe its November already! Where did the months go? With Christmas just  round the corner, I thought I’ll do a blog post about shopping for quality, since most of us is probably be gearing up to buy new clothes, shoes, presents etc. in anticipation of the coming festive holidays. It’s the happiest season of all and while most of us are happy to spend on family and loved ones, I’m sure we want to be savvy about spending our hard-earned cash as well. So, here are my tips on “how to buy quality” which I hope will come in handy when you do your Christmas shopping.

1.  Apply the Comfort Principle

The idea is to spend your money where you spend most of your time. That’s why it’s a good idea to splurge on a nice mattress, comfortable desk chair or a decent laptop, considering how many hours a day you sleep, work at your desk or use the computer. Think about it, most of us wear our clothes all day long and sometimes through the night. We wear them at work, at home, at the gym: every occasion calls for some type of clothing.

You want clothes that look good and are comfortable. Although clothes aren’t an investment in the traditional sense as they never gain value - it’s good to think of them as down payments for your daily comfort, your self-confidence and the utility of your wardrobe. My preference is to have a couple of great items that fit well, make me look and feel like a rockstar than to have a dozen of “OK” stuff that feels kind of “meh” and fall apart in a year.

2. Use the Cost Per Wear Equation

It works like this: Price of garment divided by the number of times you’ll wear it.

Example: $100 LBD that you’ll wear at least once a week for the next 3 years will cost you $0.65 cents every time you wear it. $100 designer swimsuit that you “scored” at a branded sale which you’ll wear (daily?) for the next 2 weeks of holiday, before it gets shelved for the next 2 years, will cost you $7.14 per day. If your shopping budget was $100, what would you rather spend on?

3. There’s No Escaping Construction

The most important trademark of quality clothing is its construction. An expensive dress that is made of poor fabric and badly sewn isn’t a quality item - it’s just an expensive dress. An expensive dress that fits nicely, made from a durable fabric, is well constructed may be worth the purchase price if you love it and know you’ll wear it many times.

4. Get a Frame of Reference

I suggest you start by going to a store that you know sells high-quality clothing even if it’s out of your price range and look at the details of each garment. Notice how many stitches there are per inch (more is better), what the clothes are made of and how the fabric feels (comfortable but durable), how well the buttons and zippers etc. are secured. No matter what types of garments you’re inspecting, it won’t take long for you to learn what high-quality garments look and feel like.

4. Consider Your Personal Quality Markers

What would be your acceptable level in terms of quality? You can’t expect Louis Vuitton quality with a H&M budget. Too many times, people claim to want something of high quality but cannot really explain what it is they are looking for. Once you are able to articulate what you mean by "quality", it will be easier for you to find clothing that would fit that criteria. Here are some of my quality markers:

a)     Fabric

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Check the label of the garment to determine the fabric content and care instructions. Generally, natural fibres (silk, cotton, wool) stand up better than synthetics, but some new synthetics are also worth your consideration, especially for technical or performance wear (example: dri-fit). My personal bias is for natural fibres, but I do appreciate garments with spandex for better fit and greater comfort. 

b)    “Hand-Feel” of the Garment

I’m all about touchy-feely when it comes to shopping. The clothes I buy need to pass my “hand test” – which basically means how they feel when touched. You can really feel the difference between a good quality natural fibre garment (like cotton, wool and silk) and one with lesser quality fibre content. You can also use this test on clothing constructed from man-made fibres – some will feel better, drape better and wear better than others. I understand that this is rather subjective, but most of us wouldn’t want to spend money on clothes that feel rough, itchy or stiff on our skin no matter how nice they look on us right?

c)     The “Scrunch Test”

I like to give clothes the scrunch test ie. grab a fist-full of fabric and scrunch away. If it wrinkles up right away and doesn’t “de-wrinkle”, I may walk away from the garment. However, wrinkling alone isn’t necessarily a sign of poor quality; some fabrics like cotton, linen, rayon etc. wrinkle more than others, so if like me, you hate to iron, look for fabrics that are relatively “wrinkle free” to begin with.

d)    Stitching & Seam Allowance

I look at the quality of stitching as a test of quality. This includes seams and any top-stitching. If you gently pull a seam from the inside of the garment and can see a lot of daylight between stitches, it’s a poorly made garment. Better quality garments have more stitches per inch, thus they have tighter seams and less chances for the seams come apart. Quality top-stitching should be straight, in matching thread, (unless the top-stitching is designed for contrast) and have a high number of stitches per inch. The stitches should lie flat to avoid snags (no loopy stitches).

While inspecting the seams, also look at how much seam allowance is available, especially if you need to lengthen sleeves, skirt hems or let out a waist. Seam allowance is getting very rare these days, too as manufacturers want to maximize their fabric usage.

e)     Patterns Matching at The Seams

match.jpg

In better quality clothing, a pattern like a plaid or horizontal stripes should match up at the seams, plackets, yokes, sleeves etc. Obviously, matching a plaid or horizontal stripe may mean using more fabric to cut out the individual pieces of the garment, so this drives up the cost of the garment. All too often manufacturers of inexpensive garments forego matching the patterns to keep costs affordable. If you’re buying an inexpensive T-shirt with an overall pattern, find a small scale pattern to mitigate the lack of alignment with the pattern. But, if it’s a more expensive garment expect the manufacturer to do a fairly good job aligning the patterns.

f)      Check The Details - Closures, Zippers and Pockets

Always check for - and keep - extra buttons, sequins and other details that come attached to garments. These extras save you money and time searching for look-alikes should a button pop off or sequin go missing. I tend to avoid clothes with fussy details and fragile trims, but if I decided to buy something with unusual buttons, I’ll make sure that the garment comes with extra buttons.

Zippers should lie flat and be concealed. There should also be an additional closure at the top of the zipper – button, hook and eye, snap – to help keep the zipper closed and lying flat.

Ideally, pockets should be constructed from the same material as the rest of the garment, however, these days, the trend is to use lining material – to make pockets. One advantage of this is that the pocket area is less bulky, but a downside is that lining material usually lacks weight, therefore the lining rides up and tears easily.

 

I know this is a rather technical blog but I believe that sometimes, a bit more in-depth knowledge about the details that are involved in the making of quality garments will help us appreciate our clothes more and help us better choices when we next go shopping.

Here’s to smarter shopping, my friends!

7 Must Have Dresses For Your Wardrobe

We’ve all had those, haven’t we? Days when our brains refuse to function, the style juices just aren’t flowing and all we have time for is to grab a dress, lipstick and sunglasses and we’re out the door. In fact, perhaps because it happens to me so often, I’ve noticed that lately, it’s become quite a trend to wear dresses for work in Singapore.

Maybe the pace of our lives are so stressful and we have been cultivated to become such an efficient nation that even in our clothing choices, we’ve decided that wearing a dress to work everyday is a very practical choice - as we don’t have to consider matching top and bottom before we make a mad rush for the door!

Well, if this is you, this blog is for you. Here are my top 7 must have dresses in her wardrobe to maximum style and minimum stress in the mornings!

1. Sheath Dress

A slim-cut sheath dress is a good staple to have in your closet. Look for something that gently skims the body, in a length that is appropriate for your work environment. If you’re in between sizes, my preference is to pick the larger size. That way you can increase the mileage of your sheath by layering a thin fitted tee (for summer) or a slim turtleneck (for fall) underneath it. It’s an updated pinafore look that you can pull off easily for the office by adding a pair of boots, booties or just basic pumps.

2. A-Line Dress

In my book “The A-Z Wardrobe”, the A-line dress is first of my list of must-haves in every woman’s wardrobe for effortless style. That is because the A-line dress (so named because it is narrower at the top and flares out at the hem, resembling the capital letter A), is an incredibly flattering silhouette for all body shapes, especially for those of us who carry weight in the bottom half of our bodies.

A good A-line dress to consider for the office is a shirt dress. Equal parts chic and functional, a shirt dress never goes out of style in the boardroom. Layer on a cardigan for chilly offices, and fold up the sleeves if you’re going out for lunch in the summer, for that effortless chic casual style that many aspire but few attain!

3. Wrap Dress

Here’s probably my personal all-time favourite dress to wear. If budget affords, get the real deal from Dianne Von Furstenburg in a classic print in silk jersey, otherwise, there are lots of more affordable options to choose from the mass market retailers. The wrap dress wears like a dream and is great for in between sizes because you can always tie it tighter or looser around you middle, depending on your level of comfort or the size of your lunch! My suggestion is to get one in a thicker but stretchable knit fabric which is more comfortable to wear and maintain. Do not get a wrap dress in too flimsy a knit because instead of holding in your curves in all the right places, the thin fabric will showcase all the bumps and lumps. Another great advantage of the wrap dress is that it travels well, and is versatile enough for you to take it from day to night, particularly if you’ve picked a suitable print or with a darker and neutral base colour eg: black and white, navy, aubergine or maroon.

For more ideas and tips on how to wear the iconic wrap dress, watch my Youtube Video - The Wrap Dress.

4. Little Black Dress

The LBD needs no introduction. Every smart executive probably has her own stash of dependable LBDs to choose from in her wardrobe. A gentle reminder is to accessorise your LBDs (differently, if you wish), every time you wear them. Otherwise it’s like wearing a blank canvas to work – plain and completely devoid of your personality.

Another advice would be to ensure that your LBDs are not looking too “old” or “tired” due to regular wear and tear. If you wear your LBDs very often, it is highly likely that they will wear out faster than some of the other pieces in your wardrobe, so make sure that your LBDs are up to your personal style requirements and find their replacements BEFORE they fall apart on you.

5. Hot Mama Dress

Every woman needs to have at least one of these dresses. It doesn’t have to be a figure-hugging body-con number, although if you feel you rock the look, then go right ahead and own it. It also doesn’t have to be short or have a plunging neckline etc. It’s simply a dress you know you look fabulous in, one that highlights your best features and makes you feel like a rockstar every time you wear it. Its always a good idea to stock up on one or two of these dresses and wear them on days when you need to shine a little brighter of simply because it’s an important meeting and you need an extra boost of confidence - the hot mama dress will help you sizzle your way through!

6. Relax Chic Dress

The perfect dress to wear on bloated days, generally this is a dress with no defined waistline. The trick to pull off this dress without coming across looking too casual and sloppy for the office is to style up on accessories eg: wear this dress with a statement necklace, carry a cool bag, add heels, cute flats or a combination of these items. Layering it under a cardigan, a blazer, a shawl or a scarf are also fun options to style this dress for work. If you rather wear the dress on it’s own, then my suggestion is that you look for interesting details like contrast stitching, embroidery, textured or printed fabrics, asymmetrical necklines or hemlines to balance out the simple silhouette of the dress.

7. Wild Card

Every wardrobe should have at least ONE wildcard dress. Something fun and surprising in a pleasant way. Maybe your choice could be a quirky print, a vintage number or a cheerful color-blocking piece - just something that puts a smile on your face (and that of your colleagues) when you wear it. Incorporating a wild card dress injects an element of surprise and spontaneity and prevents our working wardrobe from becoming too predictable and eventually boredom will strike.

Now it’s over to you. Which of these 7 dresses do you wear most often? Which ones do you need to add on or replace? If you do, we’ll be thrilled if you’d come shopping at our boutiques where we stock up on these essential dresses!!

Till next time then - dress well and all will be well!

PS: if you want to learn how to create a wardrobe that rocks your style, come check out our A-Z Wardrobe Online Course because we believe every woman deserves to shine with grace, gladness and style™.

Shopping Tips To Take Your Wardrobe To The Next Level

I always joke with my friends that I have the best job in the world because I shop for a living. As a fashion entrepreneur, I’m privy to wholesale, sample and factory sales information and yes, I still shop the regular retail outlets too! (I put those down as retail therapy or market research). And since I’m soooo passionate about my fashion business, let’s just say that I’ve been pretty successful with my shopping. So in today’s blog, I thought I’ll share some practical shopping tips that are easy to execute, which I feel will take your wardrobe to the next level, without breaking the bank. So take a look at the following tips:

1. Make a Shopping List

Many people overspend or buy things they don’t want, don’t need and never end up using because they haven’t prepared properly. This is your hard earned cash and precious time you are spending – it’s definitely worth a few minutes of preparation! What’s that Boy Scout motto again?  If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail! So, before you set off on your shopping trip - prepare. Review what you already have in your wardrobe, then write a list of the "gaps" and remember to use the list when you shop! Simply carrying the list all crumpled up at the bottom of your bag or jammed into your pocket isn’t going to help!

2. Set A Budget

People overspend because they have no parameters around their spending – they just went "with the flow". Not smart, my friends. Set a ballpark figure for the shopping trip and list the individual item's budget as well - what is comfortable for you and what makes sense for you to spend. The goal is to feel great about the shopping trip long after the ink has faded on the receipt. Promise yourself that you don’t buy more than you can afford. Set your budget – and like the list – stick to it! Whatever your budget – $50 or $500 or $5000 – STOP shopping once you hit that limit.

3. Shop With An Open Mind

Give yourself sufficient time to enjoy the process. Don’t speed-shop, especially if you’re searching for something really specific. Make sure you try on everything that catches your eye - stuff looks SO different on our body than it does on the hanger, and we often get caught up in a really narrow definition of what really looks good on us. I find it useful to set a specific timeframe within which you will complete your shopping and once that time is over, GO HOME. Your time is too valuable to spend it mindlessly anyway – once you’ve bought all you need, stop shopping and turn your attention to something else for the day.

4. Love Your Body

 Love this Dove advertisement :) 

Love this Dove advertisement :) 

As buyers, we buy standard sizing, because unless we’re in the haute couture or made-to-measure market segment, most of our merchandise is mass-produced. It’s ok if the clothes don’t fit your body. That’s simply because we are all unique in our shape and size. If you like the style, buy it one size up and bring it to your tailor for some alterations. Whatever the case, never blame your body. It’s the clothes that are not right for you, never your body that isn’t right for the clothes.

5. Do Your Homework

Consider what you have in your wardrobe that you can wear with the item before you buy it. My general recommendation is that it should go with at least 3 items already hanging in your wardrobe (unless it’s a tuxedo or a ballgown)! If it only goes with one or two other things, is it really worth getting?

6. Don't Make Price The Priority

Don’t make price the first consideration when you’re shopping. Instead, pay attention to the way things fit and how you FEEL when you wear them. Don’t go shopping when you’re emotional and more prone to make impulse purchases.

7. Gear Up Well For A Fruitful Shopping Trip

For example, wear slip-on shoes/flats, so that your feet will be comfortable to walk and stand as you trek your shopping routes. Go shopping on a good hair day and a day when you are NOT period-y and bloated, so you’re less likely to get sidetracked by the “Ugh, I look awful” thing when you’re staring at yourself in a mirror.

On the other hand, some days I like to go shopping completely dressed down and with no makeup. I figure if something can make me look and feel good, when I have zilch makeup on, I’ll look and feel amazing in it on normal days when I do have makeup on!

8. Use The Cost Per Wear Ratio

Use the cost per wear ratio when shopping for investment buys - i.e. Jane wears her $200 designer jeans at least once a week, that’s 4 times a month, 48 times a year. That means if she wears it for a year, the cost per wear of those jeans is $4.17. If she wears it for 2 years, then the cost per wear drops to $2.08 per wear. Say Jane also bought a $49 designer Tee on sale, wore it once or twice then chucked it. That Tee’s cost per wear is actually $49 or $24.50, which is actually a lot more than the pair of jeans. Generally speaking, spend your money on investment pieces that up your style game, than on trendy pieces that will probably be out of style before the year is over. If you really long for that fashionable piece of clothing, buy the cheaper version at a high street store, not the luxe designer original.

9. Pick The Best Time For You

Shopping can be a fatiguing and stressful activity if you don’t shop at a time that works well for you. Shopping when the malls and stores are most busy (such as late night shopping and Saturday mornings) can lead to shopping fatigue where you end up fractious and irritable – not a state in which smart shopping usually takes place. Remember that our physical environment affects us and overcrowded, jostling environments like congested shopping centres rarely bring out the best in anybody. So, pick a time to shop when you are going to be at your most alert and positive. And make sure that you take regular breaks or shop for shorter periods to avoid becoming fatigue.

10. Don’t Buy Just Because It’s On Sale 

"Sale" really is a four-letter word! Remember that a bargain is not a bargain if - it’s not you, it doesn’t fit you properly, you don’t love it or it doesn’t fill a legitimate gap you have (and therefore a real need).

Spending money on a $20 blouse, shoes, make-up or anything that you hardly wear or use is a waste of that $20. We justify it by saying “Oh it’s on sale, it’s only $20” but those $20 add up. You wouldn’t throw $20 into the rubbish bin, so don’t splurge your hard earned cash on items that appear to be a "bargain" due to their discounted sale price. Only buy items on sale when it’s something that is on your list, is within your budget and is something you would have gladly paid full price for anyway.

So now it’s over to you. What is your favourite shopping tip? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Have a fruitful shopping day, my friends!