In which I try to be fashionable, part 2

This summer, I interned at Nordstrom, a chain of clothing stores. Not just any clothing stores, but high-end, luxury department stores that sells the latest trends and finest designer goods.

So, despite being in tech, I still see some very fashionable people at work.

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This wouldn’t do. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very fashionable. If I was to work at a company that hopes to be the fashion authority, I had to step up my game.

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There was only one problem.

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I don’t know how to match clothes. I don’t know what fits me. I have no idea how to put an outfit together. I’ve gotten away with it at work by wearing dresses, like, all the time. It’s just one item and I don’t have to think about it!

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There was only one thing to do.

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I’ve used Pinterest in the past to brainstorm art and photography ideas. Why couldn’t it work for fashion?

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All the outfits I found seemed designed for those gorgeous, long-legged models who you could dress in a garbage bag and still make it work. My body type is a little less forgiving.

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It was time for more research. 

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I started reading the female fashion advice subreddit.

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I got a headache trying to process all of it.

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It was time for the next step.

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I enlisted the help of my fashionable friend from LA. We ended up going to Nordstrom (intern discount, yay!) where she encouraged me to find my own personal style.

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It was a 180 from my previous shopping experiences with my family.

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So this was a totally new, self-empowered approach to shopping.

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And at the end of the night, I actually bought clothes. That I actually liked. And they were on sale!

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Emboldened by my success, I decided that it was time to step it up.

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This time, I enlisted the help of three friends to help me shop. Three times the people, three times the success, right?

And three times the volume, it seems.

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It kind of became a dress up game for my friends.

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But it worked! In the end, I found a bunch of clothes I liked and bought even more. (I had a gift card that I needed to spend, so I didn’t even feel bad about it!)

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I couldn’t believe it. My coworkers noticed my sudden change in clothes. Even my mom approved of my new look.

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Then, my quest for fashion peaked with one friend’s invite:

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A what?

So there’s this clothing line called Cabi that has an interesting business model. Basically, Cabi stylists host these “fashion experiences” where the stylist will walk you through that season’s Cabi clothes. Then, you can try on the clothes samples, get fit and style advice, and order any pieces you like. The idea is to have an intimate setting where you and your girlfriends can drink wine, eat snacks, and shop for trendy clothes with a professional stylist.

I didn’t even know something like that existed. It was, again, a totally new experience for me.

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Yeah. I know nothing about fashion. I’m not girly. I don’t even like shopping. The whole affair was way outside my comfort zone.  Not to mention that I was probably the youngest person there– Cabi seems to be more popular with the middle-aged crowd.

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After the stylist presented all the clothes, we were given the chance to try them on.

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Might as well just go for it, right? I started picking random items from the rack and trying them on. Much to the delight of the middle-aged ladies around me.

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The stylist helped me out.

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Believe it or not, though, the stylist was super helpful! She gave honest advice and never pressured anyone into purchasing clothes– even telling people not to buy if she thought the piece didn’t fit. With her help, I ended up finding some clothes that I really liked! I asked the stylist if I could place an order.

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I felt bad for the stylist, but damn! I had paid for next semester’s tuition that morning. I did not have that money to spare.

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My friend rescued me.

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I ended up buying just a skirt. At a steep discount. Because I’m still in grad school, goddammit!

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In the end, though, I’d say this summer was a success! For the first time, I actually tried to learn how to dress myself. My coworkers have been very entertained by my quest for fashion.

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Deep down, though, I think my clothing preferences have remained the same.

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Sorry, mom– the sports shorts and tank tops aren’t going away anytime soon.

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In Vietnam, shopping is a battlefield.

I’m not that avid of a shopper. Most of my clothes are hand-me-downs from my sister. I hate trying on clothes, and shopping for extended periods of time gives me a headache. Shopaholics, I know– I’m weird.

But when I went to Vietnam, I experienced none of the above. That’s because shopping in Vietnam is a whole different kind of experience. Whether this is a better or worse experience depends on your personality.

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For example, if you’re my sister…

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…you thrive on the constant shouting, yelling, and bartering of the Vietnamese marketplace. It’s unavoidable. People will try to scam you, and you’ll have to fight to get the correct price.

So, if you’re me…

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…you hate confronting people and will flee at the first sign of conflict.

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That’s how I was when I visited my first Vietnamese market, the famous Bến Thành Market in downtown Saigon.  Bến Thành is actually one of the more tourist-friendly markets out there. The place sells all sorts of little souvenir magnets, handicrafts, and trinkets.

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Sellers actually have a good handle on English. Tourists, then, tend to swarm the place. Myself included.

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It doesn’t help that Bến Thành, and most Vietnamese markets, are very claustrophobic places. The stands are packed together and the aisles narrow. Walking through is a squeeze.

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I had trouble just adjusting to the chaotic atmosphere of the marketplace– it’s overwhelming, especially when people selling all sorts of products are yelling at you from all directions. Thus I proceeded to buy nothing at all.

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The Bến Thành Market is quite overpriced. That’s what I told myself when I walked out empty-handed, anyway. And what would I do with all those little trinkets?

But food is a little harder to resist.

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I love fruit. Vietnam is chock-full of all sorts of exotic, tropical fruits, sold daily on the street.

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Half these fruits, I’ve never even tried!

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Yes, I would have to do it. I would have to confront a seller, bargain with them, and buy some fruit!

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So my fear of buying things continued. It got worse when my family ventured into An Dong Market, a wholesale clothing market in Saigon. We wanted to get some custom-fitted áo dài, the Vietnamese traditional dress. 

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But finally, I encountered the greatest and most spectacular type of Vietnamese market yet.

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The night market!

Many cities in Vietnam have a night market. Unlike the functional produce or wholesale markets, night markets are usually designed for pleasure shopping. Stalls will be devoted to selling trendy purses, or the latest coats, or sparkling jewelry. Teens will hang out, eating Vietnamese snack food sold by various old ladies.

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These night markets are fun. My sister and I enjoyed wandering through them together, whether it be in Ho Chi Minh City, Hội An, Hà Nội, or wherever else we could find one. And then, while visiting the night market in Đà Lạt, I saw it.

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A lady had a whole tray full of the most adorable crocheted Totoros. I have never seen a crocheted Totoro before. Perhaps I would only ever see them in Vietnam. Now was my chance!

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There’s a strategy to bartering in Vietnam. First is to speak Vietnamese if you can. English pegs you as a tourist immediately. Tourists have money.

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Second is to demand half of the selling price.

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This will almost always elicit the same reaction from the buyer, no matter how reasonable your price is. Items, especially in tourist markets, can be severely overpriced. The sellers might be making a huge profit margin even at your demanded discount. Regardless, I would always hear next:

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Third is, if the seller doesn’t accept your price, to walk away.

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Often, the seller will be willing to meet you halfway.

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Fourth is to repeat until you get the price you want.

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And then… success! I finally made my first bargained purchase!

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Now, I could face the Vietnamese markets without fear! Though, depending on the seller, this strategy doesn’t always work. Sometimes they’re unwilling to lower the price. And bargaining can be quite stressful after a while. Still, now I could venture out, knowing that I could stop myself from getting scammed!

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And for the first time in forever, I actually enjoyed shopping!

 

…though I probably would’ve saved a lot of money had I not gotten over my fear.

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Newbury Street is not for poor college students

Newbury Street. It’s a popular tourist destination in Boston, known for its diverse shopping and restaurants.

This shopping also includes a Forever 21 and an H&M, so my roomies and I decided to make a day out of it. A girls’ day shopping!

Turns out, Newbury Street is just a little out of our price range.

As I failed to realize then (but I did later, thanks to Google) Newbury Street is home to many private boutiques and cafés. Those classy designer stores with the tailored suits and high-end clothing, I mean. This shop is pretty representative of what the stores on Newbury Street look like:

Newbury Street also features many Europe-reminiscent open-air restaurants:

And private art galleries:

We saw an “international poster gallery” and tried to get some prints for our dorm. No such thing:

Sales on Newbury Street often look like this:

Despite the general non-affordability, I’d recommend tourists to go to Newbury Street anyway! If you dig for it, you may be able to hit gold. (As my roomies and I did at the mainstream H&M.) Newbury Street makes for a nice walk, anyway– visitors can enjoy the laid-back, artsy atmosphere and beautiful New England architecture.

My roomies and I certainly enjoyed trying to figure out the more hipster stores:

So, kids, where do you like to shop? Where’s it cheap and where’s it good? Tell me, I could use the advice!