Sky blue clogs, vintage tunics, an emerald green Pendleton blazer

What’s been really fun about encouraging myself to stick with secondhand/vintage/small batch shopping this year is that shopping suddenly feels so much more purposeful. I honestly do not miss my dead-eyed scrolls through the sale sections at Madewell and Anthro. I’ve been spending a little less time online shopping overall, and when I do shop, it’s so much more rewarding to scavenge for little treasures that are in some way special or unique.

That said — there was definitely a part of me that hoped cutting myself off from fast fashion would mean spending less $$$, and, uh, that has not been the case. In theory, I don’t at all mind paying higher prices for pieces that were made ethically, and/or pieces that are made to last, but I think I’m still figuring out the best approach to buying well & buying sparingly.

I think it would be easier for me to buy, say, a really fucking great $300 dress and then forego shopping for a few weeks if I were more of a capsule wardrobe person, but for better and for worse, I’m a maximalist. I love color, I love shapes, I love patterns, I love big bright accessories. And I love the opportunity to dress all in neutrals whenever I want a change of pace. I also tend to dance around the gender presentation spectrum; I can go from a high femme dress/heels/lipstick mood at the beginning of the week to a white button down/platform oxfords feeling at the end. And I don’t know if I really want to try streamlining my style just because it would be simpler and cheaper — I get a lot of joy and satisfaction and just a sense of rightness from treating fashion as an everyday source of discovery and play.

This is all to say that I’m constantly erring more on the side of getting a few midprice things at a time rather than one or two big-ticket items. I still have a weird mental block about spending more than, like, $80 on a shirt or $150 on a dress or maaaaaaaybe breaking $200 for a coat or shoes. I’d pretty much always rather get two or more very different kinds of looks out of the same chunk of $. Now that I’ve built up a wardrobe I’m generally quite happy with, though, I’d like to challenge myself in future editions of this letter to consider how rewarding it might be to spend more than I usually would on just one or two things, and that’ll be it for me for the month.

That was definitely not what I did this time, though!!! Though I’ll cut myself some slack here because I have had so much fun with this new (for me) search for vintage and secondhand things that I ended up going a little overboard. And maybe sometimes that’s okay?

I have so much anxiety and guilt about money, which I know isn’t at all unusual, especially for people who have ascended into a class status that their own parents/families have not. I’m constantly struggling to determine what’s a normal, healthy amount of self-criticism about my spending — obviously it’s important to make wise financial decisions — and what might be an unhealthy amount of class guilt and self-punishment. I think there’s a big part of me that still doesn’t think I deserve to have such a good job and make as much money as I do, even though I know those things are extraordinarily relative. Sometimes I don’t think I deserve any of it: the nice clothes; the vacations; the ability to go out for a fancy meal without worrying about how to pay for it anymore.

And then I think about all the people who haven’t grown up knowing any sort of precarity who probably don’t feel guilty about their much more lavish spending a single day of their lives.

Because I’m still navigating all this stuff (and, let’s be real, probably always will) I’m going to adjust some elements of this project. Because I make the rules here!! I’m going to stop including price totals and just focus on my purchased items — I’d like to, if not celebrate my consumerism, then at least just own my choices, acknowledge when things were really worth it (and maybe sometimes when they weren’t), and continue to learn and grow.

When I went on Gee Thanks, Just Bought It, my friend Caroline’s podcast, she told me that budgeting had always been stressful for her because it reminds her of calorie counting — of wanting to either starve or eat the whole cake — which I 100% identify with as a former disordered eater. Obviously budgeting and calorie counting serve very different purposes, and both can be done in either healthy or unhealthy ways, but I think it’s important to acknowledge one of the reasons why I might be so resistant to a perfectly reasonable and semi-flexible budget so that I can then work my way towards establishing one in a positive way. Lots to discuss in my next therapy session!!!!

K enough anxious word vomit — onto the purchases.

What I Bought

Clothes/Accessories

My favorite purchase of the year so far is hands down the fuchsia overcoat I wrote about in my first letter — 60 bucks for the most compliments I think I’ve ever gotten from strangers in my life? People at Sundance literally stopped me on the street to tell me how much they loved it. And I love it too! So even though I was worried it was a frivolous buy, it ended up being soooo much more worth it then $60 on, like, another black top.

Skincare/Makeup

  • I tried and loved Peach and Lily’s glass skin refining serum last year, so now I’ve stocked up ($39).

  • I’m out of my travel sized Biologique Recherche 1970 — the kind with phenol — so I ordered another travel sized guy without it to compare the two. I’ve only used it a couple days so far, and I miss the bad smell of the phenol one; I had at least gotten used to it. Now I have some new bad smell to contend with. But I would like to make do with the phenol-free option (not like I really know the difference or if it matters???) so TBD. If anyone has strong BR feelings PLEASE let me know!!! I’m also curious about the lotions…

That’s all for now.

XOXO

S

royal blue cords, instagram earrings, a vintage denim duster

Hello friends old and new,

I’m happy you’re here!

I’m wrapping up this letter from a Starbucks in Park City between Sundance screenings. After a couple anxious weeks of jockeying publicists for tickets, I’ve built myself a pretty sweet schedule. Yesterday’s highlight was Zola The Florida Project meets Spring Breakers meets Hustlers, though it’s also something beautiful and difficult and hilarious and dark all its own — and I was really moved listening to director Janicza Bravo talk about how wild it is that, years ago, this project was just a tiny little seed of a dream, and now here she was, premiering it to hundreds of people losing their minds in the audience. Movies!!! They’re great!!!

I’ve found myself going through a period I find myself in every few months, where I want to learn how to create different sorts of things and put more loveliness out into the world. Last year I dabbled in jewelry-making and painting and scriptwriting, none of which really had staying power, though I fantasize about returning to all of them. This year I’m considering taking a sewing class, or getting back into photography, which was big for me in high school/college (and led to one of my latest purchases).

Sometimes I think that if I just had enough physical space — a room where I could store all my various art-making tools, so I could just wander in and start messing around, rather than having to dig stuff out of the back of my closet and spend an hour getting set up in a cramped corner of the living room — then I would actually finish all the projects I start. Of course that’s mostly just an excuse; artists make things in the most harrowing of conditions. If I really, really wanted to, I would.

But I’m also trying to go a little easier on myself. I have a full-time job that consumes a lot of my time and emotional energy; I’m working on a book proposal; I’m attempting to be a good friend and niece and sister and girlfriend. Maybe it’s okay if I don’t follow through with all my various whims — even just being inspired, however briefly, to spend time away from my phone and computer, attempting to make something beautiful, is something to be grateful for.

And now, to the purchases.

What I Bought

Clothing/Shoes/Accessories

  • Room Shop Vintage was having a sale on their cloud scrunchies, so I picked up a neon mini in pink ($10). I love Room Shop, which curates vintage pieces and also sells some original items made from deadstock material in super feminine colors/shapes/fabrics. I own the cloud jacket in nylon organza and a couple of their giant satin scrunchies, which I’m obsessed with; they somehow make me feel like I’m in a renaissance painting.

  • Instagram ads are far too powerful. I recently clicked through to MAM, a Barcelona-based brand that sells sustainability-minded and handmade watches and jewelry. I love their bold, futuristic-looking accessories, so much so that I purchased a bracelet even though I never wear bracelets ($51) as well as ring ($44) and this crazy ear cuff ($56) which I’m hoping will make me look like a villainous space princess.

Clothes total: $473

Skincare/Makeup

Nothing! Thank God.

Before buying anything new in this category, I’ve challenged myself to experiment with different combinations of things I already have (what a concept)! I suspect that I do, indeed, have everything I need, but that I’ve thrown too much new stuff at my face too fast.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve stopped using any cleansers and now just use micellar water instead, or even just a splash of cold water. Hard to tell how much difference this makes compared to other things I’ve added/removed from my routine (one of the reasons why I’ve committed to sticking with this one for awhile, to get a sense of what’s really working/not working), but so far so good.

A few weeks ago I started using a travel-sized bottle of the cult favorite biologique recherche 1970 (the one with phenol — hope you were right not to ban it, America) but stopped after a couple annoying breakouts. I tried just doing nighttime applications, then every other night, but my skin was still unhappy. I’m impatient and can’t deal with purging, but of course you’ve gotta stick it out or there’s no hope these expensive potions will actually do anything. So as of my last writing I decided to go all in and push through with BR every night and morning, as recommended, and I think I’ve finally seen the other side. The little bumps on my forehead are fewer and farther between, and redness (my number one problem) seem to be lessening, too. In combination with my beloved face hero, my Corsx picks from last time (the snail mucin and, just for nighttime, the hyralaunic acid moisturizer) plus supergoop sunscreen, my routine feels super simple, quick, soothing, and overall relatively inexpensive.

Makeup/Skincare total: $0 :)

Books

  • Finally picked up a copy of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, since the new one just came out; I’m halfway through and totally charmed.

  • I’ve been meaning to read The Body Keeps The Score forever, so that’s up next.

Books total: $23

Miscellaneous

  • My friend Rachel recently got one a Muji oil diffuser, which made me want a Muji diffuser. I settled for a dupe, from URPOWER (lol), for $22, and a kit of different essential oils ($16). I love it! You can set this dude to a few different colors; I like either the blue or letting it slowly cycle through all of them. My little room feels so much cozier and breezier now that it smells like lemon and lavender.

  • In the spirit of ~getting back into photography~, I got a lil Holga! For $42 and $40 for film, I’m hoping to reawaken the part of my brain that cares about visual arts.

  • My aunt recommended this Hotpop microwave popper, and it’s the best 16 bucks I’ve ever spent. It’s not the kind of kitchen tool you need to have unless you really like popcorn, but as someone who could easily eat popcorn every day of my life/sometimes substitute it for meals, this thing freakin rules. Even though sometimes when I’m feeling particularly lazy (read: tired/stoned), I can resort to a bag of microwave popcorn, I hate all the chemicals and know that I can make much more delicious & healthy popcorn myself on the stove. What’s great about the hotpot, though, is you can make stove-quality popcorn in much less time and with less dishes, since you could feasibly use the popper as a bowl, too. Plus: it folds up! And it’s dishwasher safe!! I recently talked about this miracle tool with my friend Caroline on her new podcast, Gee Thanks Just Bought It, and she told me she didn’t even like popcorn but was practically sold on it. Keep a lookout for my episode if you want to hear even more about how much I love popcorn, and how much both Caroline and I love hamburgers.

Miscellaneous total: $136

GRAND TOTAL: $632

So: progress!!! About half of what I spent last time. But still not… great, by any means.

What I have to keep in mind with this project is that obviously this doesn’t reflect all of my spending; I’ve also recently booked a couple long-weekend winter trips with friends, which has been another few hundo. I’m very much of the mindset, though, that experiences net you the most bang for your buck, so if I can cut down on stuff to save for trips, as well as for savings/giving/helping out my family, then I’ll be doing my best. Which is the most I can ask of myself.

Til next time,

S

5-in-1 foundation, winter whites, yet another statement coat

I know it’s sort of silly to believe we’ll wake up on just another ordinary day and suddenly Everything Will Be Different — linear time is a human construct, wherever you go there you are, etc etc — but I still love the idea of a new year.

For one thing, I think I’m getting cornier the older I get. Just mushier, more sentimental. I’ve become (after a long time trying in vain to resist) somewhat of an Astrology Gay. I think I’d even go so far as to consider myself a newly spiritual person. I don’t know if it’s because I’m in love with someone twice my age, or because, impossibly, my baby brother is now a great big 18-year-old man, or because, after 5 years in New York, I feel more rooted in community here than I ever have before, but I keep finding myself overwhelmed with sudden bursts of equal parts joy and sorrow. Life is so precious! I think, tearing up while watching a toddler greeting a puppy on the sidewalk.

Plus — I was born on January 6th, which means that the new year for me really IS a new year. I lived to see another decade! And so did all of you. It means nothing, of course, but it also means everything.

The holidays are usually a tough time for me, since I’m estranged from my mom, and she’s very good at leaking poison into every corner of my big and complicated family even when she’s not physically present to do the poisoning. When I go “home,” I go to my aunt and uncle’s house, which is five minutes away from the house where I grew up, and where my mother still lives. That’s been the case for 10-plus years now, and even though I am so warmly welcomed and wanted at my aunt’s, it’s never failed to depress the hell out of me that on those trips, I get so physically close to someone I’ve been trying my whole adult life to outrun.

This year, though, felt different. Most significantly, Lynette was there with me. I’ve dated people in the past who haven’t been jazzed to spend too much time with my family, but Lynette went all-in, which made me feel so supported and loved. I was also able to fly my dad and brother up from Florida to spend some time with all of us, and managed to get me and my four siblings together (in various configurations) for the first time in many years. So I began this new year full of pride, and full of hope.

One thing I knew I wanted to do in 2020 was become more ~intentional~ about my spending. I cut myself a looot of slack last year. I’d poured a good amount of money into furnishing a new apartment with my ex, and ultimately I lost a lot of the stuff I’d lovingly chosen when, after our breakup, I had to move out. I was sad and angry about all I’d invested (financially and otherwise) into a relationship that hadn’t ended up giving me enough in return. So, in the spirit of starting over — and putting myself first — I started buying even more shit than usual on the internet.

Some of it was for practical reasons. I’d gained weight, so I had to replace some clothes that no longer fit me. The weight gain was partly “good” (broader shoulders, thanks to lifting) and partly “bad” (I never used to have to worry about my stomach, but your late twenties are full of new surprises). I try to practice feeling neutral-to-good about my body, and it works pretty well most of the time, but I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t sometimes rattle me, as an anorexic in recovery, to weigh more now than I ever have before. But I’m planning to keep Carmen Maria Machado’s New Year’s hopes for us all in mind: “May you be fatter, hotter, meaner, happier.” Amen.

As usual, I’m trying to find the line between being kind to myself — I should be allowed to buy some things that actually fit me, and that make me feel good — and going totally overboard on needless purchases that can’t really fill the void of existential despair that lives inside us all. I grew up with a parent who lived paycheck to paycheck, and when you live in a state of financial precarity, it can be extremely difficult to adopt a mindset of long-term saving whenever you have money immediately at your disposal. It’s something I’ve spent my whole adulthood trying to unlearn. My progress hasn’t been linear, which I’ve struggled to forgive myself for. I’ve had entire years where I’ve saved half my paycheck, others where I’ve saved a third. This past year, I definitely spent way more than I’ve saved, and I’d like to get myself back on track.

Another good/bad thing about 2019 is that this was the year I started getting really into skincare and makeup; previously, I’d been able to sort of justify my clothing/shoes expenses because at least I never dropped hundreds at Sephora. No longer, lol!!!

I’ve previously gone through periods where I’ve banned myself from buying any new clothes, but I’ve always caved. Last year I tried to ban myself from shopping entirely and rented my clothes instead, which I do still plan on doing from time to time (my account is currently paused), but the thing about rentals is that the clothes don’t really feel like yours, because, well, they aren’t.

I think one of the weird side affects of being a person who writes personal essays for a living is that I sometimes convince myself I can simply commit to some new lifestyle — sobriety, no new clothes, less takeout — and that writing about This New Me will simply make it so. But I’m fallibly human, like everyone else; I commit to ambitious new projects or resolutions, attempt to make these things a part of my identity, and then I get bored or tired or anxious and abandon them — and, especially since I’ve announced them publicly to tens of thousands of readers, I feel like a horrible hypocrite for reneging on the promises I’ve made to myself and to others.

With this newsletter, I’m still trying to hold myself accountable, but (hopefully) without setting myself up for failure. The only hard rule: No more fast fashion. I’ve definitely cut down, but the big holiday sales recently sucked me in again, and now I’m ready to finally quit in earnest. I’d also like to try buying nearly all vintage/secondhand, though new ethically and sustainably made stuff is sometimes ok, too.

I was inspired to start this project by my friend Katie’s excellent newsletter, Do Not Buy. I’m planning to disclose every physical product/item I purchase — clothes, skincare, books — with their prices and my total spend number. I’ve thought about keeping a money diary in the past, and/or setting up a specific budget, but for whatever reason I’ve always found either idea completely repellent. (Which is probably why I spend too much money!!!) I think/hope, though, that disclosing how much I’m spending in a public forum will encourage me to spend less on dumb shit and more on things I actually value and will use & love for years to come. And perhaps it will encourage you to do so, too.

Ok, let’s get started. This round I’m going to include everything I’ve purchased in the last few weeks or so, and in the future, I’ll include everything I bought since publishing the previous newsletter.

What I Bought

Clothes/Shoes/Accessories

I succumbed to a big COS sale over the holidays. (I’ll miss you, COS!!!!)

When Lynette was here she wanted to do some vintage shopping, so I took her to Dobbins St. Vintage, where I inevitably just got things for myself I didn’t need but absolutely love, which tends to be how it goes for me at Dobbins.

One of the reasons I started renting was for statement coats — how can you really justify the price/storage space for lots of statement coats? But I walked into Dobbins, blacked out, and bought a vintage magenta overcoat for $60. It was a crazy/indulgent purchase, but especially for the price it’s so, sooooo good. I made Lynette take this photo of me in it.

Also at Dobbins, I spent $30 on baby’s first beret. It’s millennial green!!!

If I go this whole year without buying anything else at motherfucking Madewell, I will be pathetically proud of myself. Unfortunately I know exactly how most of the pants will fit me and trying on pants from anywhere else is hell, so during the 40% off sale I ordered some I’d been eyeing. I’m late to winter whites, mostly because I am a slob, and because for a long time I let myself believe white is “not flattering” on curves. But in 2020 we’re living dangerously, baby!!!

I took a little time off of instagram at the end of the year, and now that I’m back on it means I’m gonna have to suffer through being inundated with the most expertly tailored ads I’ve ever experienced. I’ve already clicked through to some Spanish brand called Alohas, where I purchased west black vintage boots for $154.

Did I already buy black Blundstones and some cheap heeled black boots from Urban last year? Yes. Did I really need these? I really, really didn’t! My justification: I love a square toe, I love a wood accent, and I loooove this particular leg-lengthening height, since it hits above the ankle. I also wish I just hadn’t bothered with the cheap Urban guys and instead invested in a pair I didn’t merely like, but loooooved, and that’s how I feel about these. We’ll see once they actually arrive if they’re as good as I think they are.

Clothes total: $862.97

Woof!!!!!! I knew it had to be somewhere this high, but I’m extremely good at seeing disparate $100- or $200- something purchases as reasonable without really thinking about them all stacked up together. I could blame this on holiday sales, but I’m sure I could find any reason at all to spend a lot of money, and I want to seriously cut this number down in my future dispatches.

Skincare/Makeup

I read a post on the Cut singing the praises of best skin days, from the new brand Iris & Romeo. I don’t wear foundation; years of various masc partners congratulating me for “not needing it” led me to develop a ridiculous sort of pride in my low-maintenance. Even as I’ve accumulated a ton of skincare and makeup stuff over the past year, I still stopped short at foundation, worrying that it would really mean the point of no return.

I’m easily duped by the Glossier-esque promise of “no makeup” makeup, even though I though that’s… not really a real thing. Best Skin Days appealed to me in that sense; it also appealed to my lesbiany love of multi-functionality, since it’s allegedly 5-in-1 skincare: serum, moisturizer, sheer coverage, sunscreen, and blue light/pollution protector. Plus, it’s all natural/clean. Sounds too good to be true? Probably! Stupid-expensive at $64, I bought it anyway.

Once it arrived I thought even the sheer level of coverage might be too makeup-makeupy for me, but if I mix in a bit of face hero in I actually like this stuff a lot. I layer it on top of Dr. Jart’s color-correcting treatment, for my perpetual redness, which I also mix in with a little face hero. (Face hero is the best.)

I’ll see how long this lasts me — the jar offers quite a generous amount of product, and I only use a little at a time — and I might repurchase. What I will NOT be repurchasing is Iris & Romeo’s power peptide lip balms, at $26 each. The colors wore off on me right away, and didn’t look that good to begin with. I bought two of them, another horrible shopping habit of mine; why don’t you try one first to see if you like it, Shannon?????

I also placed an Ulta order, a part of my completely paradoxical journey to use/need less skincare stuff buy buying more skincare stuff:

Makeup total: $170.99

Books

Though I can and should use the library more often, I like buying books to support writers and support the industry, and I hope the karma will come back around when I publish my own books (lol). That said, I definitely have… too many books. Even though I gift them or donate them (my stoop freebies go fast!), there’s way too many on my shelf right now that I haven’t read, so I really need to cool it until I’ve gone through more of my pile.

That said, I recently bought a bunch of books.

  • Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. Been meaning to read this one for awhile; I just started and love it so far. $14.39

  • Prozac Nation, by Elizabeth Wurtzel, since I’ve never read it, and I’ve loved all the various remembrances of her work published after she passed away last week. $9.99

  • The Revisioners, by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. I think we have an advanced copy of this in the BuzzFeed office somewhere but I got tired of looking for it. $16.59

  • The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner. It was on a bunch of best-of lists and I’ve heard from friends who hated it and from others who loved it. What I want to read right now is something like The Corrections, tbh, and I got the impression this might fit the bill. TBD? $16.29

  • The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, by Bridgett M. Davis, a rec from my friend and colleague Tomi, book editor extraordinaire. $12.59

Book total: $69.85 (nice)

GRAND TOTAL: $1,103.81

🥴🥴🥴🥴🥴🥴🥴🥴🥴🥴🥴

Whew. I’m not spending outside of my means, but I’ve spent more on stuff this past month than I have on rent, which is yikes. And I’m saving, but could definitely be saving more, as well as putting aside more than I already do for charitable giving.

Next time, this letter shouldn’t be nearly so long — I had to do a lot of introductory stuff this round — but I’ll have a new section with updates/reviews when applicable for things that haven’t arrived to my doorstep yet.

Speaking of — I’m going to try to cut down on my online shopping in general, and if I really need something, seek it out in a store. Will I really be able to stick to that? Time will tell!!

That’s all for now, folks.

Love,

Shannon

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