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Spring Dress Fever in Rain-Lashed Wellington

You know how it is – one of your friends catches it, and then everybody comes down with it. The signs are everywhere. Moaning on Facebook, red lipstick, inability to get too much cherry-printed fabric.

At first I thought it was a stronger than usual case of the PUG bug – that’s a sudden-onset addicition to clothing from Pinup Girl Clothing, fondly abbreviated as PUG. But it’s more widespread than that. Wellington’s femmes are in the grip of an epidemic of Spring Dress Fever.

The awful Wellington spring weather has made this round particularly contagious. How bad is it? 140 kph winds topped off with horizontal rain bad. Multiple flight cancellations bad. Two new spring dresses await in my wardrobe – a deep-magenta cowl-necked charmer and a full-skirted cutie sprigged with coral-hearted daisies. Did I style one of these for work today? No. I wore a sweater, and hermetically sealed myself inside my Arcteryx shell.

Really, it’s this terrible. Photo courtesy of NIWA.

Still, the vision of one of Wellington’s “good days,” when a cotton frock is just right, is too tempting. Let me set my soggy Arcteryx, and any chiding about wardrobe practicality, aside. Take my hand and we will ESCAPE into the dream of late spring and summer dresses.

PUG is popular here, prticularly because their dresses’ fabric weight works well in the Wellington climate, and because their international shipping is insanely fabulous. NZ customers have been known to order a dress on Monday and have it in their hands by Friday. (A Trashy Diva dress, in contrast, took a month to get to me…and the shipping was $10 more than PUG’s. Ahem!)

Bettie Paige Clothing pleased a friend of mine last year, I had a lovely visit to their store this past May in Philadelphia, sizes go up to 3x, and their sale page is smokin’!

To soothe your retro spring dress fever without going overseas…

Cherry Bishop has a sweet selection that has better sleeve/shoulder coverage. Sizes up to 18, too.

Trelise Cooper is expensive but her sale section, especially for the Cooper line, has some 50% off treasures. Her shipping is free, her sizing goes up to a forgiving 18, and there’s an ancillary “Workroom Sale” on.

Dresses include: Violet Crumble, Rockabella, Pucker Up.

Trelise Cooper dresses left to right: Violet Crumble, Rockin’ Doll, Pucker Up, Summer Breeze. All of these are on sale and available in a range of sizes up to 14.


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Friday Follies: I’ll Tumblr For You

Was just discussing Tumblrs versus blogs versus Pinterest with some friends…on Facebook, ironically. So I’ve whipped up a quick post on some Tumblrs and Pinterests done by people I know and like!

Real life is often gray, but Tumblrs are candy-pink, primo-boutique-hyperilluminated white, and full of adorable cuddly foxes, or serious beautifully photographed ravens. Each of these has a different identity and message – through graphics.

Pinterest is perpetually the illuminated boutique-cum-museum. Here are two museums I am always happy to visit:

I’m not on Tumblr or Pinterest because NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY. I’d rather live in a pretty, tidy house than look at photos of superbly glorious houses. Also, there are four things on the Web I find psychologically satisfying: an email or comment from a friend; a good read/discussion thread; finding An Item I Was Looking For To Posess In Real Life; and an installment of a favorite web comic. Endless photos is like endless Doritos – where does one stop with the browsing?

Right now I am just losing my mind after learning about a storyline in Love and Rockets: New Stories involving Maggie and Ray called “The Love Bunglers.” I’ve never been more grateful for digital comics. You can share my Love and Rockets love with this Tumblr, Hoppers 13.

Does anybody else reading this remember this song? Anyone?


Making It Happen: Cara Hill, Style Blogger & Best Dressed in Wellington

Cara Hill, herself.“Best dressed” lists can seem remote and unreal. But Wellingtonian Cara Hill, recipient of two best dressed accolades in 2012 and 2013, makes being beautifully dressed sound fun and accessible. Her striking style is just one facet of her expressing herself to the fullest. I talked with Cara about her style journey, being body positive, the practical side of being well dressed, and hating alterations but loving fashion risks.

We’ve all seen you darting around town, the strikingly lovely brunette with the ravishing tattoos and fabulous outfits. But, tell us…who is Cara Hill?

Hmmmm, isn’t that always the toughest question? Let’s see … Cara Hill is a Canadian expat who has lived in NZ for almost 4 years now. I love the theatre and therefore have spent a big chunk of my career working in one. I’m married to the love of my life with whom I have more fun than I ever thought possible. I love tattoos, books, movies, body positivity and feminism. And I love, LOVE pretty clothes!

 And you’re also a published author, of the book Supernatural Winnipeg, which was quite successful in Canada.  I mention it because I think there are lots of misconceptions about women who, as you say, love pretty clothes – that we’re insubstantial or unintelligent —

True, good point. Although, it is a travel guide to haunted places, so that might discredit me!  I kid.

 (five minutes of digression talking about Bigfoot and taniwhas)

We should probably talk about paranormal stuff sometime, but we’re here today to talk about your magnificent sense of style. You run a highly popular style tumblr, and you were also voted as Best Dressed in Wellington 2012 last September by the readers of Wellington’s Capital Times. AND you just got cited in Fishhead Magazine this month as one of Wellington’s best dressed.

It’s a bit overwhelming actually, the best dressed things.[Read more]


YouShop International Mail Forwarding Review

Herewith, my mail forwarding experience with YouShop, New Zealand Post’s US-based mail forwarding service. As an online shopper, I was interested to see what this was like – especially when packaging I had no control over impacted my shipping costs. And maybe you will be, too.

What Is YouShop, Again? New Zealand Post, in response to Kiwis’ desire for unlimited online shopping, has set up a mail forwarding service based in Portland, Oregon. You send a USA-acquired purchase that doesn’t ship overseas to the YouShop location in Oregon. The NZ Post employee there then weighs it, and tells you how much to pay for forwarding. Once you’ve paid online, NZ Post sends it to you in New Zealand, for a price. Note that NZ Post never opens the package, and does not consolidate multiple packages, most likely to reduce their liability.

The Test: In the post-Christmas online sales, I ordered two pairs of jeans from new-to-me brands, from two different online retailers. They were separately forwarded by YouShop. I had amazingly different experiences for the two different packages.

Item 1: A pair of NYDJ jeans from On sale, $34 US; free Super Saver shipping from

Have you ever seen anything so enthralling in your life??

Jeans #1 in their simple envelope, with a full-sized bottle of nail polish for scale.

  • Packaging: Slim minimum-weight plastic bag, shown above.
  • YouShop forwarding charge: $22.
  • Experience: From ordering jeans to admiring my butt in the mirror – 14 days exactly, over the holiday period, no less. I received *four* status emails: one saying that YouShop had received my package, one saying the package had been sent to New Zealand, one saying it had arrived in New Zealand, and one saying it had been delivered.
  • Comparable jeans purchase in New Zealand: $235 minimum. Definitely one of those NZ markup items. “Aren’t those jeans expensive??” a co-worker asked. US site prices are $140 US to $77 US, depending.
  • Overall: WIN. Even with the YouShop forwarding cost, I anticipate an excellent return on investment for this garment – transeasonal, well-made, and flexible. Also, garment fits perfectly – deliciously, even – and is strikingly attractive. And unique. And…well, this is what mail forwarding is for.

Item 2: A pair of raspberry-hued jeans from Ann Taylor Loft. On sale, $17.99 US, with $7.95 shipping. I’ve always loved wearing burgundy/berry tones, so for me the color trend is a chance to stock up on a shade.


Massive packaging difference with Jeans #2 – note that the for-scale nail polish is dwarfed.

  • Packaging: A modest shoebox-sized box, shown above.
  • YouShop Forwarding Charge: $36.00. WHAAAA?
  • Experience: Frankly, I was so thrown by the different shipping fee, it took me a week to click “Complete Order.” I did have the package in five days – they left it on my home doorstep. Again, I received progress emails – which was good because it let me know to look for the package.
  • Comparable jeans purchase in New Zealand: Depends on quality. Cheapies available from $49.00 at Glassons, $59.00 at JeansWest or Just Jeans. I’d have to alter the length, though.
  • Overall: I feel… punished by this one. How am I supposed to know if my items will be in featherweight ecopackaging, or if they’ll be mummified in a box? Why do I have to pay $14 more for the privilege of a cardboard box and a piece of paper packaging? I would have been OK with $5 – $7 more. Adding to my grousing, the jeans had fit issues (too large, when does that happen??). After washing them in ultra-hot water and running them through the dryer, they’re at the tailor.
Naked jeans!!!!

The two pairs of jeans, free of all packaging and folded once at the knee, beside each other with the for-scale nail polish. The NYDJ jeans are heavier.

Final YouShop Verdict

Recommended, with “caveat emptor” in place. The timing is reliable, but variability in packaging makes using YouShop shipping cost roulette. In future I will use YouShop for otherwise elusive must-have items – wardrobe foundation pieces, in petite sizing, items with which I fall sickeningly in love, shoes and boots. Or for small light parcels such as makeup, electronics components, specialist hardware, or lingerie.

You Shop ties into the psychology of online shopping by extending the shopping experience. The status emails each provide a little positive mental ping, echoing the mild endorphin rush of shopping itself. But not enough to overcome the anxiety of finding out if a package is light or heavy by their standards.

Bear in mind that, if the option is at all available, direct international shipping may work out to be about the same or cheaper.

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Correspondence: 1930s for Special Occasions

I’ve been friends with American Magpie for 24 years! It was delightful to hear from her when she got in touch to ask  about vintage style for special occasions.

I would like to start the process of amassing some wardrobe pieces in a 1930s style (dresses, mainly). I’m looking for fairly simple ones, not high fashion examples of the genre, but ones with a nice drape that show off my, um, hour-glassiness, to good advantage. I’m really not a dress-up person – work clothes are mainly dark trousers, a nice blouse and a scarf, and I grub around in gardens and on hiking trails enough that casual clothes are still jeans and tshirts. But on occasion I do like to dress up and I prefer the simple dress, seamed stockings, hat and a coat look to more contemporary styles. Can you recommend places (on line, preferably) where I could look for clothes like these? I suspect it would be much easier if I could just make them myself, but I don’t have a sewing machine, or a room (or a table,even) to devote to learning how to do this. Maybe down the road, but not now … so I’m looking to buy things ready-made. Any ideas?

Hi hon, oooh, the 1930s look! So lovely, so troublesome…the 1930s were when modernism really hit its stride sartorially, and fabric prints and tailoring veered off in lots of quirky directions. Personally, with my curves, I am a 1940s gal. But if you want the 1930s, then by the Goddess, you shall have it. It just so happens that here in New Zealand, we are coming up on Art Deco weekend in Napier, and so lots of us here in the Antipodes will be getting their 1930s on as well.

This is a good website to just get ideas about the 30s look: Fashion-Era.

And here’s another one: Giant Pants of the 30s.

In the 1930s you would have day dresses – a range of dresses or outfits worn during the daytime – and, if you were so lucky, evening dress. Day dresses had hemlines between the knee and the calf, most of the time – the flapper’s naughty hemlines were over – usually had sleeves, and were often accesorized with a hat and gloves. Smart suits were also worn during the day, made of fabrics from wool crepe to tweed. Chanel got started with her suits in the 1930s. Evening dress was made of more glamorous fabrics, and accessorized with jewelry, long gloves, and corsages. I’ve had a long, bias-cut, 30sish black evening dress in my wardrobe for 20 years. It still fits (just!) and still gets worn.

Blog inspiration can be found at SammyD’s Vintage (overview with hints), Kitty’s Vintage Kitsch (tutorial!) and The Dreamstress. I shared The Dreamstress’ “Gran’s Garden” 1930s dress with American Magpie, who said it was just the thing, but that she couldn’t sew.

Now, where to find these looks ready-made? To evoke a 1930s garden party for under $75 US,  my #1 recommendation is going to be hitting up consignment stores or eBay. Tea-length floral silk/rayon dresses and tea-length skirts, bias-cut or pleated, are not at the top of the fashion hit parade at the moment, which means consignment/eBay is a great source. Vintage Coldwater Creek and Liz Claiborne, in rayon or silk, often has lovely 1930sish lines. There was an Art Deco revival in the 1970s, so to find ’70s vintage that looks ’30s, search on “does 30s” or “does 1930s” to find 70s-does-30s and 80s-does-30s styles.

A range of EBay finds: Laura Ashley, Karen Millen, and Stop Staring.

A range of 30sish EBay finds: Laura Ashley “day dress”, Karen Millen evening dress, and Stop Staring dress that could be day or evening.

If you want to spend between $100 and $200 US, there’s a site called Trashy Diva that does ravishing retro dresses, and their Obi dress, on sale now, has a great 30s-like line. I am happy to vouch for their fabrics and say that this would be a fab investment special occasion dress, flexible for all kinds of events. Looking around, I also found some appealing, well-priced reproduction 30s and 40s dresses at Stop Staring, Heyday, and ModCloth. And, of course, there are custom vintage reproduction dresses galore on Etsy – their 1930s selection seems skewed towards cotton daywear. I recommend Heart My Closet, especially the Ivy, Darcy, or Serena pencil dresses. Because they are custom made you can request a tea-length skirt, which takes them to the 1930s.  The Dreamstress also takes commissions, if her schedule allows.

We tend to focus on dresses, for some reason – we’re all in love with the idea of the magic dress – so I encourage you to consider top/skirt combinations. If you have curves, it can be far easier to find a great-fitting top/skirt combination than it is to find a bias-cut dress that fits just right. For a true 30s look, necklines were high, and most blouses had some sleeve.

Would have been worn during the day with hat and gloves.

1930s skirt ensembles from a pattern.

For some retro-flavored tops and skirts, here’s a stealth source: Pendleton! The Tuck it Up, Tie Front, and double-breasted blouses look great to me.  (I find vintage Pendleton on eBay less appealing than their new stuff,) I also love this tie-neck knit top from Talbots. Both Pendleton and Talbots have lots of petites, recommended because I know American Magpie is, like me, petite in height.

Why are you not going to the Pendleton web site right now?

Strikingly retro Pendleton tops from their current sale.

Shoes and accessories can take clean-lined contemporary clothes in a vintage direction. How about investing in some vintage 30s jewelry – such as Bakelite bangles, Czech glass necklaces, paired rhinestone dress clips, brooches for coats or dress/blouse lapels, Trifari costume jewelry, rock crystal necklaces. The 1930s were not one of the great jewelry eras, due to the Depression, so I’d add 1920s and Art Nouveau necklaces and bracelets to the mix. Pearls have never been more affordable thanks to Chinese pearl farmers (eBay, Fire Mountain Gems, your favorite local bead store). Rennie Mackintosh silver, and silver and marcasite jewelry, are also perfect for the Art Deco look.

To avoid overdoing it with gloves, hats, jewelry, scarves, costume jewelry, etc. when they were all worn more frequently, a lady would get dressed, put on her acessories, and then take one accessory off. Also, for a true 1930s look, stick with smooth body-toned hosiery, possibly with seams. Fishnets were trampy back then!

Lastly there’s yet another Art Deco revival happening out there – you can thank the upcoming Great Gatsby movie for that – so I would look in your favorite stores this season for Art Deco-flavored tops to team with skirts or Giant Pants.

I know I just recommended this book in another recent post, but I Capture the Castle has a lot of commentary about women’s clothing in the 1930s. It’s also a great story that you can share with your stepdaughter.

Coda: After more conversation, and an exchange of photographs and measurements,  I mailed American Magpie a vintage silk dress that was waiting patiently in my closet, in an international clothes swap. Here’s a picture of the dress. The long lines, ditsy print, and fine chiffon ruffles give it a 1930s feel.

30sish dress

A 30s-ish dress that’s about 10 years old. Silk chiffon/light crepe, with pearl shell buttons.

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Saturday Follies: Silk and Perfume

Some links! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

A thought-provoking essay on beauty, grooming,  and how this translates to “emotional work” in a partnership.Thanks to Already Pretty for the link.

Already Pretty also has a great piece on how sleeve length impacts your look. I’m so pleased that sleeves are returning to summer garments after our long fashion nightmare.

Silk top on sale at House of Fraser. I fear I’m too short for it, but maybe you?

Another trend that pleases me: silk garments. This fashion trend is cycling  through to thrift stores super-fast, because people don’t know how to take care of their silk garments without drycleaning. Here’s instructions on how to handwash silk. The darker/more vivid a silk garment is, the less you should wash it.

Attention online Antipodean shoppers: House of Fraser in the UK, a large department store, is having a 70% sale on their summer stock AND their shipping is 10 pounds flat. I like the bohemian-romantic East dresses and the geometric Mary Portas line.

Current obsession: queer French perfumer Germaine Cellier. “Cellier infamously dedicated Fracas ~a voluptuous tuberose scent conceived for “femmes”~ to the beautiful Edwige Feuillère, while she promised the butcher Bandit to the “dykes”.” There is no historical roman a clef about her…why? This means I have to write it. I owe this new obsession to two friends, one the dame who thrust the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer into my hands and said, “You have to read this,” and the other the damsel behind Unseen Censer, who sent me Cellier’s leather-and-violets scent Jolie Madame.

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World of Wearable Arts I: The Circus Has Come To Town, Bringing Shoes

This week and next week, The World of Wearable Arts show is happening in Wellington. Imagine the changeling child of Cirque du Soleil and the costume collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented as an absorbing son et lumiere spectacle. That’s WOW for you.

What happens when a multiweek styelstravaganza comes to a medium-sized city? Bringing hordes of style-conscious visitors who have the money to attend the not-inexpensive event, and who, with the holidays several months away, are spending their remaining money on themselves? It’s like a second retailer Christmas, and it’s entertaining for those of us who live here.

Deliciously retro department store Kirkcaldie and Stains’ has its staff on a high-alert, low-leave schedule, and its windows are adorned with past WOW entry costumes. Boutiques and stores are expanding their evening and weekend hours, to be rewarded by sales from the crowds going to the event. Capital Books, open late, said that the WOW crowds were already good to them, snapping up sewing and fashion tomes.

Shoe designer Kathryn Wilson even saw fit to inaugurate her spring pop-up store, the SHOEBOX, during WOW week. A gleaming crystalline boutique has suddenly appeared twenty meters from the arena where World of Wearable Arts takes place, brilliantly lit as a spaceship:

Inside the glittering SHOEBOXInside, along with the bon-bons and soignee vendors, are shoes that define New Zealand luxury; buttery leathers, subtle colors, heels that you can walk in as you transfer your weekend bag to the seaside bach.

I'll take that one, that one, and that one

METALLIC BROGUES. I don't even like flats and I'm excited

The shoes’ construction is, well, those who like Fluevogs and Chie Mihara won’t be disappointed. They also pass the “but are they COMFORTABLE??” test. Kathryn Wilson has two lines – the Miss Wilson line is less expensive – and you can also check out the sale section of their web site. I enjoyed the novelty of cruising shoes after dark by the waterfront, myself.

Pretty much all of these look wearable in real life


Let’s Talk About Shoes

When did shoes become the enemy? My friends and I are always bitching about shoes. They are expensive (particularly in NZ), uncomfortable, and hard to find in our sizes. I whirled into my shoe-repair place this morning, thrifted spangled heels in hand, saying “I brought you more crazy shoes!” to see that somebody else had brought the crazy before me. A set of hot orange-and-pink suede platforms with six-inch heels were in the shoe stretching machine. A friend of mine, getting rid of boots from the ’90s, observed that normal heel heights have reached for the sky.

The result is women getting defensive about wearable shoes, with the increasingly-discussed concept of eight-hour shoes versus limo heels, and writers saying things like I love fashion, as long as I don’t actually have to wear it. Because beautiful shoes hurt. Many women my age still default to Dr. Marten’s.

IMHO the point of shoes is not to be beautiful in and of themselves, but to enhance the wearer’s beauty. And if you can’t move, you aren’t attractive. I like to be able to move in shoes, and I like to wear my shoes forever (the shoes I have on today are 4 years old; the oldest pair in my wardrobe has been there for 24 years). I like a 2-to-2-and-a-half inch heel,  leather and wedges. In temperate to chilly Wellington I get more wear out of closed toe shoes.* Often my everyday shoes are black leather, which is nearly invisible, and they are polished and resoled. I’ve been getting good feedback on breaking out of black leather – leopard haircalf, taupe with studs, cognac, just plain red – so I’m diversifying, slowly, as the budget allows.

As a mental palate cleanser, I recommend the blog Barking Dogs, which reviews mostly-US shoes that have comfort as a priority. Also, have a look at Korkers in Nelson handmade sandals – affordable for custom-made, their leather range includes the primary and jewel colors that are having a Moment. Ask them about contrast leather trim, which they used to do.

For polished shoes and sandals, my eye keeps getting caught by Overland, and it turns out the more expensive shoe store Mi Piaci is their corporate sister. Mi Piaci’s sale is on now, and their website has a sale section. After exploring the Mi Piaci sale, I am pleased to bring you some recommendations for fashion-forward shoes. These aren’t just shoes that look pretty in Etherweb la-la land. I have TRIED THEM ON & am personally vouching for their comfort.

Shoes that don't hurt your feet!

Mi Piaci sale shoes that are comfortable & still available in a range of sizes : top row, Tiga; middle row, Tempest; lower row, Adam and Blackton. Tempest and Blackton are also available in a plain black.

I wound up trying the top and middle row shoes on twice, once with jeans and once with a dress. They turned out to be good all-rounders. Tempest in orange is on layaway for me – the orange is a bit more yellow in person, very wearable compared to the acid-orange tones we are seeing everywhere for spring. Tempest in the zebra stripe would go with all the vivid spring/summer colors out there, and transition beautifully into fall. But the little strap on the Tiga made it even more comfortable and easy to wear, and that toast shade would also offset the vivids of the season. A very difficult decision! The chunky heel on Tiga and Tempest is similar to the heel on the expensive designer Celine shoes for Winter 2012. So this shoe on sale in NZ is like a new release shoe overseas. Also: COMFORTABLE.

A word about Ziera, the-NZ-shoe-brand-formerly-known-as-Kumfs. Despite their attractive, comfortable, and often retro-flavored shoes this season, I am still recovering from a really bad customer service experience there. And if I’m going to pay their $200+ prices I could go to an independent boutique like I Love Paris, or go back and get more great service from Mi Piaci.

If you’ve found any good accessible shoes lately, let me know in the comments?

*I even prefer closed toe shoes for emceeing costumes – more protection against whatever’s on a bar floor, and easier to wear tights with them.

The tights look way better in person
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The Grand New Zealand Design Online Shopping Post

It is New Zealand Fashion Week this week. Let us praise NZ Fashion Week for putting together one of the most accessible Fashion Weeks in the world, with scads of events for the general public, including a photography exhibition. If you can’t make it here…this post is a mini-online Fashion Week for you, to allow you to partake of New Zealand style from the comfort of your couch in Columbus, Long Island, or Delft.

The tights look way better in person

Left to right: Karen Walker gold robots, Iwi Designs tights, Trelise Cooper cuff and ring.

I read a spring edition of a New Zealand fashion magazine, which querulously begged us to not shop online overseas to Support New Zealand Business and the ideal of the “boutique” as a curated space. Luckily, New Zealand fashion has gone ahead and started the future – the desginers here are online, and they’re doing international shipping right. Yes, designer clothes are expensive. But there is a market out there for higher-end items, and they’re reaching out to find it. Just as I shop overseas from NZ, you can shop NZ from overseas.

So, why would you shop NZ from overseas?

  • Ethical production – Clothes made in New Zealand are made by workers earning New Zealand wages and protected by our labor laws. That makes them more expensive than other clothes, but it means they are ethically above board, and also…
  • Great quality and construction – I’m one of those awful people who shops with my hands – after I see a garment I like, I grab it and gauge its texture.I turn it inside-out. My little mitts have been all over these clothes and I am happy to vouch for them.
  • Superior fit for some figures – The cuts of Antipodean clothes are often great for taller women, women with “apple” figures, and women with a low hip-to-waist ratio. A friend of mine who’s on the cusp of American regular and plus sizes found that Antipodean plus sizes fit her like a dream.
  • Vive la difference – For something truly different, design from the other side of the planet can’t be beat.
  • Seasonal sales flip! – You’ll be ordering discounted items for the previous summer/winter that will arrive in time for your spring/fall. A lot of New Zealand clothes are also “transseasonal”, wearable any time of the year, as befits our temperate climate.
  • Sane and/or Free Postage – Researching this, I was startled by the designers offering flat rate or even free worldwide shipping. I also know that these online retailers will give you very personal customer service if required.
  • It’s all cheaper than it looks – The NZ dollar ranges between .70 and .80 cents of the US dollar in value.

Online shopping tips and links galore behind the cut!! [Read more]


Living in NZ, Shopping Overseas: Apology Necessary?

Why are quality clothes and cosmetics notably more expensive in New Zealand than in other Western markets? Should I feel bad about shopping overseas and having items shipped here?

A substantial amount of my wardrobe, and most of my shoes, comes from overseas, i.e., retailers outside of New Zealand. There are three reasons: sizes, selection, and “economies of scale.”

Everyone has a size rant, and you don’t need to hear mine. Selection is not a necessity to put clothes on one’s back, but a desire for a first-world luxury. But let’s take a closer look at those “economies of scale.”

Math: still this glamorousOutside of the importing retail giant The Warehouse, clothing and cosmetic prices are comparatively high in New Zealand. Blame is often laid on NZ government tariffs. But these are, according to NZIS (PDF document here) set at 9.5% for clothing, 6.5% for footwear, and 3.5% for fragrance.  That is…actually not that bad. Blame is also laid on shipping – and the costs incurred by outside NZ vendors shipping independently to New Zealand show that this, also, doesn’t account for the full story behind inflated prices. For example, let’s look at this pair of Naya shoes, originally priced at $140 in the USA. When we convert that to NZ currency, they are currently $165 NZD – let’s apply $10 tariffs, $15 shipping – let’s round it up a wee bit for stocking/processing and say $190 NZD.  But they’re for sale in downtown Wellington boutiques for $260. An MAC lipstick, about $15 in US, is currently $18 in NZD, with a tariff of – I can’t give it anything less than $5 and maintain my sanity – and minimal shipping. Again, let’s be generous and account for staffing/stocking and say $30. Instead, it’s $40. MAC is only sold via large corporate outlets, with counters in stores or as standalone stores themselves. So we have two items, in different retail settings, that average a mysterious 25% additional cost.

Math was never my strong point, but something seems wrong.

Are these higher prices perhaps a hangover from days when the NZ dollar was weaker? It’s been on the high side against the US dollar for a good eight months now, so for these new-season items, should we be seeing reduced prices?

If any NZ retailers out there have something to say about this, please, comment! Keep it clean and polite – we really want to know.

Meanwhile, in the past two years many international retailers have discovered it wasn’t the end of the world to ship to the end of the world. The response amongst NZ ladyconsumers is that links are being swapped. Endless for shoes, Strawberrynet for cosmetics, Asos for everything in all sizes. Ebay and Etsy sellers are in on the game.

For me, the occasional downside of buying mail order and overseas is getting stuck with lame ducks. Online reviewing reduces this tremendously, I find.  But what’s the downside for NZ and my local economy? I’m sucking money away from that.

I know brick and mortar stores have their costs, and the minimum wage in NZ is a living wage.  And I know local makeup artists. They are lovely and helpful. They get a bit if I buy from their counters. Personally, I feel there is a tackiness to trying colors at their counter, then running away and buying online.

In the USA, where online shopping has advanced tremendously, the retail landscape has been transformed. Borders Books has gone through a global collapse. In San Francisco on Valencia Street, every third boutique seemed emptied  by year 3 of a recession combined with the punch of Etsy as a quirky retail juggernaut. Here in NZ, we are seeing the retail impact of online shopping begin with the antique and vintage places that have shrunk and vanished, often citing online sale/auction sites.

To end on a slightly encouraging note, here are a list of NZ made items that are well priced and great quality:

  • Leather bags and wallets from Konev. I could go on all day about how great, sexy, and durable these are.
  • Thunderpants fun, amazing underwear and clothes.
  • Frutti on Cuba Street in Wellington stocks a range of affordable retro-flavored delights, mostly made in New Zealand.
  • Art and clothing from – note this lovely dress from Pixie Pocket! And this other one from coolitdaddyo! Made to your exact size, even. NZ vintagistas are ordering a lot of dresses from China-made ChicStar and retro-repro purveyors in the USA. You can see that we have price-competitive local alternatives.