All Dressed Up

POST SPONSORED BY BONMARCHÉ

Dresses are a busy girl's best friend. When I'm going from work to an event or two, or maybe a date with the boy, the right frock can work for any occasion with a change of accessories and shoes. On rushed mornings, there's no need to fret over disparate pieces that don't quite go together (which blouse with which pants, and which sweater on top of it all?). Getting dressed is literally as easy as, well, getting dressed.

Don't believe that dresses can be wardrobe workhorses? Take a look at these three outfits I put together using dresses found on Bonmarché.

Work

A tailored shift in a black-and-grey houndstooth pattern is classic and office-appropriate. A blue blazer adds a jolt of colour, while a colour-blocked leather tote holds all the essentials you'll need during your commute. Chunky-heeled ankle boots and a rose gold watch make it easy to dash from meeting to meeting in style. With so much colour and pattern at play, subtle accessories like smart specs and gold knot earrings provide the perfect finishing touches.

Weekend

Weekends are all about easy dressing. After all, a girl doesn't want to fuss when there are leisurely brunches to be enjoyed, latte dates with girlfriends to be had, and errands to run. A dress is an easy way to look pulled together in a hurry, especially when it comes in an adorable polka dot pattern. For comfort and style, add a bright and cozy cardigan and tall cognac leather boots made for walking. Ditch the weekday work tote in favour of a roomy clutch with enough space for money, credit cards, ID, phone, keys, and your favourite lipstick. (I like red leather because it provides a colourful counterpoint to any outfit and is surprisingly versatile.)

Date Night

Whether it's reservations at the newest restaurant in town or a romantic evening at a favourite eatery, a special date with your significant other calls for a bit more effort. I love the inherent simplicity of this outfit (only four pieces!), but each element packs a lot of visual impact. A blue-and-black colour-blocked sheath and orange envelope clutch play off each other. Gold-accented accessories (in this case, an elaborate statement necklace and cap-toed snakeskin T-strap pumps) add just the right amount of metallic shine for a night out.

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Beauty School Drop-In at the Aveda Institute Vancouver

I'm a dunce when it comes to doing my hair. If I'm feeling fancy I'll try a few small braids, maybe a bun, or I'll use the straightening iron. But most of the time, I'm strictly a wash-and-wear sort.

So when the Vancouver Aveda Institute invited me for a hair crash course with lead educator Shallynn Johnston, I was intrigued. How doable would these styling tips be? Very, as it turns out. Over the course of 1.5 hours, Johnston showed us some easy updos and a number of straightening iron tricks.

Here are the hair highlights if you want to give them a whirl at home!

Knotted Side Bun

Think of this as the easy-but-elegant cousin of the side ponytail. To get this look, start with second-day hair or spritz a texturizing spray (like Aveda Air Control Hairspray) liberally on dry hair. Create a deep side part, then gather hair into a side ponytail on the same side as the part. Secure with a snag-free elastic. Next, form a knot with the ponytail. Wrap the loose ends around and secure with bobby pins.

A variation for medium-length hair: Try separating the ponytail into two sections and tying them into a knot, then pinning down the loose ends.

Side Loop

Another variation on the side ponytail, this 'do starts off like the knotted side bun (second-day hair or texturizing spray, deep side part, side ponytail). This time, form a loop instead of pulling hair all the way through. Wrap the loose ends around the elastic and secure with bobby pins.

Fishtail Braid Twist

This 'do takes a bit more time and practice than the previous two, but the impressive result is worth it.

Step 1: Separate your side ponytail into two sections. Fishtail-braid each section by taking small sections of hair from the inside and wrapping them around the outside; continue wrapping interior small sections around the outside until you reach the end. Secure with elastics, or for a softer touch, backcomb the end of the braid and stick a bobby pin through the centre.

Step 2: To keep the fishtail braids from looking too polished and "done," pull at the sides of the braids to loosen them. The braids should look looser and thicker than when you finished braiding them.

Step 3: Twist both fishtail braids together and secure the twist with an elastic.

The Easiest Straight-Iron Curls Ever (Promise!)

Add wavy, natural-looking texture to straight locks with this simple trick. Spritz a low-hold hairspray on a large section of dry hair, and wrap the section around two fingers. Slide your fingers out of the hair loop. Clamp a straightening iron on the hair loop (the thicker the hair, the longer you apply heat). When you take away the straightening iron, the hair should still be looped up. (Resist the urge to brush it loose!) Repeat until all your hair is done. Allow the curls to cool, then brush them loose, and voila, relaxed waves.

Thanks to the Aveda Institute Vancouver for the informative beauty school drop-in session! If you'd like to learn more, or if you've always fancied yourself the next Vidal Sassoon or Sally Hershberger, be sure to check out the Aveda Born to Style competition. Four lucky winners from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Toronto will win full scholarships to the Aveda Institute in their hometown.

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Latest Outfit: Black and White

Banana Republic diamond jacquard pullover | J. Crew no. 2 pencil skirt (other colours) | Kate Spade 'Bow Bridge Kennedy' bag | Joe Fresh shoes | Necklace (old) | Clinique Chubby Stick in 'Plumped Up Pink'

Black and white is such a classic combination, but as one of spring's biggest trends, it's been reincarnated and reinvorgated in the form of bold graphic patterns. I've been drawn to all the black-and-white pieces trickling into stores lately, particularly this pullover from Banana Republic. Although the colours more closely resemble oatmeal and black in real life, I just couldn't resist the honeycomb pattern (so fun!) and thoughts of pairing it with bright pencil skirts and bags. Neutral colours and a graphic knit make this sweater feel as versatile as a black cardigan, but add much more visual interest to basic outfits. I can see myself wearing this sweater often as we slowly transition from winter to spring.

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A Tale of Two Body Lotions

From lip balms to face oils, hand lotions to body creams, this dry winter air has me moisturizing like a fiend. Lately I've been switching back and forth between two body lotions--one organic, one natural--both of which I like for very different reasons.

Readers of this blog know that I've been a fan of Eminence Organics products since being introduced to the line last fall. Their Coconut Firming Body Lotion ($36, available at Spa Boutique) is another winner, a lightweight, fast-absorbing lotion that restores plumpness and softness to dry skin on arms and legs. I'm not usually a fan of coconut-scented or flavoured anything, but the heady fragrance of this lotion won me over. (It helps that the scent probably comes from real coconut milk and coconut water, and fades away within half an hour.) Ingredients like bamboo, chicory root (a natural retinol alternative), and hyaluronic acid moisturize while fighting signs of aging on one's body. After a couple weeks of applying the Firming Body Lotion post-morning shower, I noticed a distinct improvement in my skin's texture.

Eminence's formula was fine for late autumn and easy to apply in the mornings because it absorbed so quickly. But for depths-of-winter, heavy-duty moisturization, it fell a little short. Cue Korres Yoghurt Body Butter ($33, available at Sephora). The star ingredient is edible Greek yogurt, which probably explains how thick and indulgently creamy this body butter feels when squeezed straight out of the tube. Shea butter and sunflower, avocado, and almond oils round out the 94.4% natural ingredient formula. I was impressed with how effectively the Yoghurt Body Butter softened my elbows, knees, calves, and tops of my feet (all tough areas), and I used it non-stop during the recent cold snap when the air felt colder and drier than usual. The only downsides: the smell (not a fan), and the fact that it takes a little longer to absorb.

Which body lotion would you be inclined to try? Any personal favourites to recommend?

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From the Red Carpet to Real Life: Jewelry from Leon's Beverly Hills

SPONSORED POST

Ah, award show season. For avid celebrity and red carpet style-watchers, this is the highlight of the year. But while designer gowns get most of the attention and "who wore it best" analysis, a little love should be shown for celebrity jewelry too. After all, the right statement bijoux can complete a look or transform it entirely. Without those memorable emerald earrings, Angelina Jolie's black gown would just be another strapless number with a sweetheart neckline. And Emily Blunt's 2013 Golden Globes outfit wouldn't have been nearly as interesting without those eye-catching ruby earrings.

The custom jewelry designs from Beverly Hills-based jeweler Leon's have the same sort of transformative power over an outfit. I was pleasantly surprised when I was asked to check out their website. The rings, bracelets, earrings, brooches, and necklaces definitely aren't for wallflowers. Big and bold, they combine unexpected stones (rubellite and rubies), metals (white and rose gold), and textures (sparkly pavé settings and smooth, round stones). Their intricacy and playfulness elicited some serious "If I were a movie star" daydreaming of my own. These pieces would look striking on the red carpet, wouldn't they? I particularly love the fireworks ring.


But as sweet as daydreaming can be, let's face it: We mere mortals don't have thousands of dollars to spend on diamonds appropriate only for galas and gowns. That's why I love the pieces pictured below. They're definitely still investment pieces, but they're more suitable for everyday wear and no less eye-catching than their more expensive counterparts. They'll provide a luxe finishing touch to the most basic blazer/tee/skinny jeans outfit or to girly date night dresses. (And speaking of date night, Valentine's Day is coming up--hint to all the guys looking for gift ideas!)

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Soirée Snapshots: Killjoy Barbers, KNOWSHOW F/W 2013

Judging by the way my social calendar is filling up, the holidays are definitely over and we're well into the new year. Here's a look at what I was up to last week.

Old-fashioned barbershop in the front, cocktail destination in the back: Killjoy Barbers (formerly Killjoy Cocktail Tavern) celebrated its re-opening and renewed focus with a media preview last Thursday. Some guests enjoyed a straight-razor shave (complete with hot towels and plenty of lather), while others sipped bourbon cocktails and nibbled on canapés.

Jay Jones, executive bartender and brand ambassador for the Donnelly Group, with May Globus of the Westender.

Stop by 1120 Hamilton Street in Yaletown for a hot shave or a cool drink, like the Virgil (shown here).

Every season, I look forward to KNOWSHOW. For fall/winter 2013, expect cool outerwear and lots of cozy knits in different textures and intarsia patterns. New-to-Vancouver Danish export Minimum has both.

Eco-friendly eyewear from Proof. The frames are made of everything from plant-based biodegradable acetate to wood and repurposed skateboard decks.

Pretty leather-and-bead wrap bracelets from Alden Rae.

This stuffed horse from Pendleton is adorable! The Portland-based heritage brand renowned for its bold patterns, blankets, and woolen goods is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Vancouver-based Herschel Supply Co. has come a long way in a few years: Their bags are now available from Little Burgundy and Madewell, although we'll always have the gratification of having discovered them first. For fall/winter 2013, standout bag styles feature rubberized neon straps and bright accents against neutral gray or camel.
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5 Budget-Friendly Buys

The holiday excesses are over, the credit card bills are due, and thoughts have turned to income tax returns and RRSP contributions (in my household, at least). While I love a good sale, I'm also keen on keeping my 2013 resolution to save more money. The solution to my conundrum? Affordable yet stylish finds that can be worn right now and well into spring. Here are 5 items worth spending a few dollars on.

1. Refresh wardrobe staples with an adorable belt: Cinch in button-up shirts, layer over pencil skirts, or swap it with the belt on your wool coat or trench. LOFT colour-blocked bow skinny belt (on sale now for $24.90).

2. A lightweight wool scarf in a bright print keeps you warm on wintry days, and wards off the wind on blustery spring ones. Madewell polka dot scarf ($52).

3. Even a simple change like lightening one's nail colours can feel fresh. Pick neutral shades that work with winter woolens and spring's lighter palette. Sephora by OPI 'Metro Chic' and 'Nonfat Soy Half Caff' ($12 each).

4. A sparkly brooch pinned to a dark wool coat will earn you many, many compliments. (I speak from firsthand experience.) Pinning one on blazers or faux fur accessories can be just as effective. Forever 21 cross-shaped brooch ($7.80).

5. I'm a sucker for striped sweaters. A fine merino wool knit layers well in the middle of winter, and keeps you warm as the weather transitions to spring. Gap intarsia chevron sweater ($54.95).

Your turn! How do you keep your style feeling fresh while on a budget? Are there any items you still find yourself indulging in when you're staying away from shopping?

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Latest Outfit: Cocooned

Central Park West 'McCarren Park' wrap | Anthropologie 'Gilt Grid' sweater dress (on sale now) | H&M toque | Coach vintage 'City' bag (new re-issue available) | Pour La Victoire boots | American Apparel leggings | Lover coat from One of a Few (shown below)

A name change for this recurring blog feature was long overdue. After all, it's been ages since my outfit posts have shown ensembles that I wore on the day they were posted! Regardless of when the photos were taken though, these posts will continue to be a weekly glimpse into my personal style.

Oh, hi there! I didn't forget about you, I promise. Thanks for all the sympathy you showed toward my grown-up brain problems in my last outfit post. It's a relief to know I'm not the only one with heavy thoughts beyond shopping and style lately. Hopefully any reader who's grappling with their own case of grown-up brain lately is making progress!

Ironically, shortly after that post, Grown-Up Brain subsumed Fashion Brain as a big project launched at work and I found myself attending endless rounds of meetings and fretting about project lead stuff. Feeling like I was on the verge of catching another cold certainly didn't help.

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Today's Outfit: Blue Valentine

Zara moto jacket (similar versions here and here) | J. Crew silk blouse (similar) and 'Tippi' heart sweater (similar versions here, here, and here) | Gap 1969 Always Skinny jeans | LOVECOCO loveknot earrings (c/o) | Bloch oxfords | Roots bag

It's taken me a little over a week and a lot of rest to get over this cold, so I kept things simple last Sunday with a casual outfit ideal for running errands: a silk blouse layered under a wool sweater, flats, and the moto jacket I can't seem to get enough of. I love the bright pops of colour from the blue heart and the touches of red and orange.

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Burning the Midnight Oil

Perhaps it's the "all work, no play" lifestyle of recent months (understaffing is not fun). Or maybe I've been eating too many bad-for-me foods lately. Whatever the reason, my face has gone haywire. A large pimple that sprouted on my nose just before Christmas remains stubbornly inflamed, while another one is surfacing near my right eyebrow. Meanwhile, there are dry patches on my forehead and chin.

I know what goes inside the body is as important as what goes on it, so I've been upping my intake of fruits and veggies (hello, lunch salads). Instead of having that second cup of morning coffee, I sip water. At night, I drink a Chinese herbal remedy made with chrysanthemums to reduce inflammation.

But hey, taking care with what I put on my body can't hurt, right? To combat dryness and restore some sort of sanity complexion-wise, I've been dabbling with face oils. It may seem counterintuitive to apply oil while I'm battling blemished skin, but the benefits are worth it. I've noticed less dryness and overall ruddiness. Plus, I find that the formulas (high oil content, less filler than a cream or lotion) make for fewer congested pores. And if I apply an oil before bed, I definitely wake up looking a little more refreshed.

Here are three I've tried lately. If you're a fan of face oils, do you have any favourites?

  • Eminence Organics Herbal Recovery Oil ($76, available at Spa Boutique) is a nice introduction for the uninitiated. Olive and sesame oils smooth lines and hydrate, while sage leaf extract, tee tree oil, ylang ylang, and clary sage oil calm inflammation and puffiness and fight bacteria. Consider it the jack-of-all-trades face oil. It absorbs quickly and doesn't feel oily, which makes it perfect for day wear.
  • Because Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate ($48) is clear and not tinted like other oils, it's the only one I trust around my white Marimekko bedsheets. Aside from my hue preference (or lack thereof), Midnight Recovery Concentrate does a pretty decent job of hydrating dry patches and subduing fine lines while I snooze. Talk about beauty sleep.
  • Pai Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil ($34.92) is ideal for repairing scars, sun damage, and stretch marks on the face or body. If you're looking for an anti-aging retinol product for sensitive skin, this is it: The trans-retinoic acid in the formula (derived from rosehips) converts to vitamin A on contact and doesn't irritate. The only downside: The formula's orange tint means you have to be very careful about letting it all absorb before getting dressed or going to bed.

P.S. Another way to keep blemishes at bay: clean makeup brushes. Win brush cleaner, a new set of makeup brushes, and more from Mary Kay.

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New Year, New Beauty Groove: Mary Kay Brush & Lipstick Giveaway

As a thank-you to the loyal readers who've stuck by me despite last year's numerous hiatuses, I'm excited to offer a generous giveaway courtesy of Mary Kay. With a total value of $289, this giveaway is the perfect opportunity to revamp a stale beauty arsenal with new brushes and fresh lip colours. (And if you vow to be better at washing your brushes this year, you'll be very interested in the brush cleaner that's included.) So, are you as excited as I am yet? Let's take a look at the products.

No beauty kit is complete without basics like good-quality brushes. The new Mary Kay Brush Collection ($75) includes all the brushes you need for impeccably blended eyeshadow and a flawless face, as well as a carrying case for travel. The Eye Smudger Brush ($12, sold separately) makes it easy to smudge liner or smoky shadow along the lash line--the perfect tool for achieving that Carine Roitfeld effect. Between routine washes, refresh bristles with the spray-on Brush Cleaner ($12), which removes excess makeup and residue and dries quickly.

Regular readers of this blog know how much I love lipstick, and Mary Kay's new True Dimensions Lipstick line ($19 each), suffice it to say, is a lipstick addict's dream. Think creamy, flattering colours with a hint of glossy shine that go on sheer in the first coat but can build in intensity with multiple coats. Not only does the formula moisturize and glide on oh-so-smoothly, it boosts collagen and minimizes fine lines so lips look plump and smooth. My favourite shades: 'Wild About Pink' (an almost-neon pink); 'Pink Chérie' (the sort of day-to-night pink that brightens one's complexion); 'Sizzling Red' (a deep classic red); 'Firecracker' (a vivid pink-red that's a dead-ringer for Tom Ford's 'Cherry Lush'); and 'Mystic Plum' (a dark and lovely burgundy). You'll get the chance to decide what your favourites are because you're getting the entire collection of 10 colours!

This is your chance to toss those dirty, worn brushes and try a new lipstick wardrobe. To enter the giveaway:

  • Leave a comment on this post by Friday, January 18th, 12pm PST. International entries welcome. The comment must have some means of contact (email, blog, or Twitter). Any entries without a means of contact are automatically disqualified. (required)
  • Tweet "New Year, New Beauty Groove: I want to win a brush set & lipstick wardrobe c/o @marykaycanada & @SoloLisa! http://tinyurl.com/bkxe34v" and leave a comment on this post telling me you've done so. (+1 entry)

Good luck!

UPDATE: The Mary Kay "New Year, New Beauty Groove" giveaway winner is Karen, who commented "Mary Kay all the way. These are great products that I'd love to win. Thanks for your gracious giveaway." Congratulations! I'll be contacting you shortly. Thanks to everyone who entered!

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Today's Outfit: NYE 2012, Plus Thoughts on 2013

Zara moto jacket (similar) and necklace | Anthropologie dress (on sale now) | J. Crew invitation clutch | Maison Martin Margiela booties (similar)

Happy New Year! Although it's been a couple of days since New Year's Eve, I wanted to share what I wore that evening--or at least, what I would've worn if I had gone out (most likely to a house party or a casual fete) to celebrate. In reality, I wore this outfit minus the moto jacket, clutch, and booties for a quiet night at home with the boy. We rang in 2013 with a homecooked meal: roast chicken and baby potatoes; a salad of arugula, pear, walnuts, and prosciutto; and leftover flan from Christmas for dessert. Lots of lit tealights and soft jazz music made the evening feel like a special occasion. I had only one glass of wine and switched to hot tea for the rest of the evening because I could feel a cold coming on. (Sure enough, I spent the next day with tissues, throat lozenges, and Netflix. I've since been sniffling and sneezing my way through the first few days of 2013.)

This dress (a serendipitous find on Anthropologie's sale racks) proved to be the perfect NYE-at-home frock with its relatively casual sleeveless knit top and dressier tulle skirt. I like the mismatched polka dots in this outfit (perhaps a subconscious nod to confetti?), and how the moto jacket and booties add a bit of edge to a girly look. What's more, pairing the dress with red lips, a sparkly necklace, and a headband and low ponytail made me feel festive without being overdressed.

People often ring in the new year singing Auld Lang Syne. But in reflecting on 2012, I'm reminded of these lines from another of Robert Burns's poems, "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.": "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley, / An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, / For promis'd joy!" My schemes were laid with the best of intentions last year, but the results were decidedly bittersweet.

2012 was a milestone year, full of accomplishments from advancing professionally to being published in FLARE and becoming a homeowner. But it was also one of the most stressful and overwhelming years in recent memory. I was sick more often. My pursuit of freelance opportunities, my exercise routine of yoga and salsa dancing, and my regular blogging schedule fell by the wayside as work became more demanding than ever. I learned some hard lessons, namely that I'm only human and I can't do it all.

To that end, the keywords guiding my 2013 goals will be BALANCE and SLOW BUT STEADY GROWTH:

  • Professionally, focusing so much energy on my job this year has made me realize I've been neglecting career development while concentrating on blog, freelance, and fashion opportunities in the past few years. This year, I'm going to focus on my career more by taking on different challenges at work and/or looking into classes and courses. This may mean more quiet days on the blog, but I promise, when I do post I'll try my best to continue delivering high-quality content.
  • Personally, taking better care of myself still tops the list. More sleep and more exercise are a must.
  • Financially, I will try to watch my discretionary spending and save more money. With RRSPs, a mortgage, and potentially paying for a new car/a wedding/further education in the next 5 years, my funds would definitely be put to better use in the bank instead of acquiring a new handbag or pair of shoes. That doesn't mean I'm going to be a miserly penny-pincher and stop shopping cold turkey, but it does mean shopping more thoughtfully.
  • Fashion-wise, I'm going to continue following the motto "buy less, but buy better." Sticking to this mantra has resulted in the addition of fewer, better quality, and more versatile pieces in my closet, and lowered the number of fast fashion regrets.

What are your resolutions for 2013?

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