Category Archives: tips and tricks

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My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules

Since the day I learned to dress myself, my style M.O. was to “look cute.” (I’m not saying it was always successful; there was a very unfortunate JNCO jeans phase in my adolescence). Now that I’m getting older, that’s shifted to “look polished/sophisticated/put-together.”

A year ago, I purged my closet of all the bad shopping decisions of my twenties. It was one of many closet cleanouts; I’d spent years in a cycle of buy-wear-toss and couldn’t figure out why I was never satisfied with my stuff.

During that Labor Day 2013 Purge to End All PurgesI got the moment of clarity I so desperately needed: the trick wasn’t filling a wardrobe with a whole bunch of random inexpensive stuff; it was creating a well-edited collection of great stuff.

For so many years, I equated good style with having lots of options and never wearing the same outfit twice. So I bought as much as I could within my [limited] budget: I rummaged through clearance racks, shopped at outlet stores and fast fashion retailers, and gave zero damns about quality or fit. I wasn’t invested in my clothes because I tied their worth to their value; which wasn’t much.

After that last cathartic closet cleanse, I promised myself that going forward I would be much more mindful of what I purchased. And I have been. In the last 12 months I’ve completely changed the way I think about shopping and my style: I have a better grip on what works for my body, I’m not afraid to splurge on quality basics, and I understand the value of keeping things super simple.

Here are the self-imposed rules I’ve followed to create a closet that I really love on the same budget I’ve had for years:

1. Is it on the list? One of the things that’s helped me the most this year is keeping a mental list of the pieces I think are missing from my closet from season to season, and sticking to that list when I’m shopping. The benefits are two-fold: it keeps me from buying a bunch of random crap, and helps me keep an updated inventory of what I have.

2. What’s it made of? When you start to pay attention to garment construction, you can easily spot shoddy pieces that will fall apart after the first wash. Now I check the tags on clothes the same way I check nutrition labels on food. I won’t buy shoes or handbags unless they’re leather (I always have great luck finding both on Hautelook), and I try to find things made from natural and/or durable fabrics that are easy to care for, like cotton, lyocell and rayon.

3. Does it fit? No seriously, does it fitNot to be confused with, “can it zip?” Here’s what I’ve figured out as a 5’3″ hourglass: as much as I love shift dresses, I’m much better off in tailored and wrap styles; curvy-fit jeans that sit higher on the waist are my friend; super tight skinnies and cropped pants of any kind are my worst enemy; I should avoid mini skirts and shorts with less than a 4-inch inseam; and I feel best in tops and sweaters with some breathing room. Once you figure out what’s most flattering for shape, shopping becomes so much easier!

4. What’s the cost-per-wear? Five years ago, if you handed me a $100 gift card, I’d buy as much as I could with it, supermarket sweep style, and end up with a bag full of things I’d probably only wear once or twice. Now, I’d put it toward a staple — a great leather jacket, a pair of black suede pumps, or a little black dress — that I can wear lots of ways for years to come. At the end of the day, it comes down to cost per wear. If I impulse-buy a clearance top for $20 and wear it twice, my CPW is $10. If I splurge on a versatile black romper for $80 and wear it 25 times, my CPW is around $3. So romper, FTW.

It took me a while to get over my obsession with more is more, and realize that it’s better to have a few pieces I really love than a lot of pieces I just kinda like.

5. Will it play well with others? When I’m shopping for clothes, I stick to mostly neutral tones and pick just a few printed statement pieces. I used to do the exact opposite, and I ended up with a closet full of mismatched patterns and colors that didn’t work together. Now I can easily remix my favorite pieces and put outfits together quickly.

Quick Tip: How to Clean Brass Jewelry

A Pretty Penny - How to Clean Brass Alex & Ani Bracelets C started an Alex & Ani collection for me about a year ago, and every now and then he surprises me with a new one. I love that each bracelet comes with a special meaning; everyone’s stack tells a little story about who they are. After several months of daily wear, my brass Alex & Ani bracelets started to tarnish and leave black marks on my wrist. I was super bummed and thought they were ruined, until I learned this simple trick from a friend on Facebook. A Pretty Penny - How to Clean Brass Alex & Ani Bracelets You’re going to need some ketchup. If you don’t have any in the fridge, take this opportunity to make a trip to Chik-fil-A for waffle fries and pick up a pack or twoI mean, any excuse for waffle fries is a good excuse, amiright? A Pretty Penny - How to Clean Brass Alex & Ani Bracelets - BEFORE Cover each brass bracelet in a thin layer of ketchup, and let them sit for a minute or two on a clean cloth. Then, using another clean cloth, carefully wipe it all off. A Pretty Penny - How to Clean Brass Alex & Ani Bracelets Quickly run the bracelets under warm water to remove any remaining ketchup and dry them completely, and voilá! Good as new. A Pretty Penny - How to Clean Brass Alex & Ani Bracelets - AFTER Update: Use this trick sparingly and pay close attention to your pieces as you clean them. While ketchup is an effective brass polisher, Alex & Ani sent me a friendly tweet to warn that it could damage the finish. So exercise a little caution. :)

my super simple skincare routine

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These days I’m really into healthy skin and minimal makeup. My face is at its best with a super simple routine; the more I experiment with products the more aggravated my combination-dry sensitive skin becomes. When it’s angry, it rebels in the worst ways: flakiness, redness, and cystic acne breakouts that leave discoloration behind for weeks.

So for now, I’m skipping the harsh chemicals and anti-aging formulas in favor of gentle, natural products… with high hopes that lots of moisturizer and SPF will guarantee good skin for the long-haul. It worked for my grandmother, so fingers crossed.

Keep reading for a long-winded breakdown of my current short-list routine!

Read more…

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My Favorite iOS Apps for Mobile Blogging

A Pretty Penny | My Favorite iOS Apps for Mobile Blogging

In my early days of blogging, I relied on my DSLR and Macbook to churn out content. Publishing posts took a lot of time, planning, uploading, and work space.

With the flower shop commanding more of my time and energy, it’s important for me to keep the blog fun and manageable; which means finding ways to share and stay connected as conveniently as possible. Now I can create content anytime, anywhere with my iPhone or iPad and a handful of iOS apps.

Thanks, technology!

Here are 11 of my favorite apps that help me keep the blog updated regularly with limited time:

Instagram – (FREE) Everyone uses this photo-sharing app, but I especially love it for blogging. WordPress recently added an Instagram widget that shares my latest ‘grams in my sidebar; this helps me keep the  blog updated with fresh content, even when I’m not posting.

Facebook Pages Manager– (FREE) This app helps me stay connected with my Facebook audience. I can easily share photos and updates, as well as respond to comments and private messages and keep track of stats.

Paper by FiftyThree– (FREE) This app turns my iPad into a notepad. I can sketch, write, and draw; and then save, share, and stream.

PicTapGo – ($1.99) This simple photography app is the mobile version of RadLab. It puts a variety of Photoshop-style actions and filters in the palm of your hand, turning your iPhone camera snaps into creative images that can be saved for blog  posts or shared across mobile platforms.

Pinterest – (FREE) I prefer the Pinterest iOS app to the web version! It’s so easy to “like” and repin images by touch. I love Pinterest for finding style and beauty inspiration, browsing DIY ideas, and creating my weekly mood board posts.

Polyvore – (FREE) I use this app to create style and beauty collages; like this and this!

TimerCam – (FREE) I don’t always take selfies, but when I do, I prefer TimerCam. Please go back and reread that as The Most Interesting Man in the World. My latest outfit shots were taken on-the-go with this self-timer camera app.

vscocam – (FREE) When I want to spice up a photo quickly, I run it through this photography app to add filters and adjust levels. The majority of my Instagrams are uploaded through vscocam.

Waterlogue – ($2.99) This new photography app turns plain ol’ photos into pretty watercolor illustrations! I love using it for beauty product posts, like this one.

WordPress – (FREE) I can manage nearly every aspect of my blog directly from my iPhone or iPad with the WordPress app. I use it daily to write short posts, share photos, interact with readers, and keep an eye on my stats. Push notifications let me know when I have new followers, new likes on posts, or achieve new milestones in traffic.

Wunderlist – (FREE) Organization at its finest! This is the ultimate to-do list maker and task manager. It’s great for storing blog post ideas, making lists of goals, and tracking deadlines.

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10 beauty cheats every girl should know

{Inspired by Buzzfeed’s popular 27 Life Hacks Every Girl Should Know.}

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1. Mascara wands make the best eyebrow brushes. When its time to toss your favorite tube of mascara — you should replace every 3 months to protect your peepers from bacteria — save the wand. Wash it clean with soap and water and, voila, free brow spoolie!

2. Turn any eyeshadow into a long-lasting eyeliner with a drop of saline solution. I learned this trick years ago from Carmindy on What Not to Wear. Wet an eyeliner brush with a drop or two of saline solution (the same stuff you use to clean your contact lenses) then dip the brush into a powder eyeshadow and apply it like liquid liner. When it dries, it’s sweat and smudge proof and lasts all day. I love using this trick with purple, green and teal shadows for a night out.

3. Clean stained fingernails with a whitening toothpaste. Even with a base coat, dark and bright nail polishes can leave behind yellow stains after you take them off. Give your nails a good scrub with a nail brush and a whitening toothpaste to remove them.

4. Beat dry, peeling lips overnight with Aquaphor. I’m terrible at properly hydrating throughout the day, so my lips are always in need of TLC. When they’re really chapped and flakey, I cover them with a generous dab of Aquaphor right before bed. It works its magic overnight, and I remove it with a warm wet wash cloth in the morning. All of the dead skin wipes right off with it, and my lips are left soft and hydrated with minimum effort.

5. Out of eye makeup remover? Olive oil works in a pinch. Bonus: it’s chemical-free and really moisturizing for the delicate skin around your eyes!

6. Freshen up unwashed hair with cornstarch. Cheaper and greener than dry shampoo, corn starch helps absorb oil and odor from your scalp. Sprinkle a tiny amount on your roots (you can always add more if you need to) then brush it through with a boar bristle brush until it’s completely gone.

7. Cure nail fungus with tea tree and olive oil.  I picked up a nail fungus in a salon a couple of years ago, and had the hardest time getting rid of it for good. It started out looking like a tiny bruise under the nail and later the nail started to lift from the bed. Yikes! I tried over-the-counter treatments, but it kept coming back. Then I discovered the tea tree oil trick, and I haven’t had a problem since. Every night, I applied straight tea tree oil to my fingers and toes, rubbing it in to the cuticles and getting it under the infected nails. Tea tree oil can be really drying, so I followed it up with a little organic olive oil. I did this nightly until the fungus disappeared, and I continue to do it several times a week to keep my nails and cuticles healthy. These days, I’m all about home mani/pedis.

8. Dry nail polish in a snap with ice water. Since I started using Essie’s Good to Go quick-dry topcoat, I haven’t had to use this trick, but it’s a good one. Fill a bowl with ice water, then carefully dip your drying nails in for about a minute. If they’re still tacky, dunk them again.

9. Clean makeup brushes with castile soap. You could spend $14 on a 6.75 oz bottle of brush shampoo from Sephora, or you could spend $16 on a 32 oz. bottle of multi-tasking Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap. This natural and vegan mild cleanser removes every trace of makeup from synthetic brushes, even dissolving long wear foundation and concealers. I’ve also used Dr. Bronner’s to wash my face and soak in the tub, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of its “18-in-1″ power.

10. Grab a stack of napkins on your next Starbucks trip. This one is weird, but true. The coffee powerhouse’s unbleached recycled napkins make excellent blotting papers. So when you stop in for your latte fix (or shaken peach iced green tea) grab a few extra napkins and stash them in your purse for a quick skin touch-up on the go!

easy as pie

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JCrew dress (a pretty penny) | pree brulee peach druzy necklace | Nine West belt | Nine West wedges | vintage eelskin clutch (thrifted)

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Maybe it’s because I was raised on the rules of Stacy & Clinton and weekend marathons of What Not to Wear (both the American and British versions) but the word “comfortable” in the context of style usually makes me crinkle my nose. It conjures up images of sweats, baggy tees, and pajama jeans worn by superwomen who give so much of themselves to everyone around them, and don’t leave much time or energy to dedicate to themselves. Trust me, I understand. However– trust me one more time — there are pieces you can add to your wardrobe that take seconds to put on, and are just as comfortable as those trusty sweats. And feeling pretty and put-together goes a long way in adding a little pep to your step.

Take an easy cotton shirt dress like this one. Throw it on, cinch your waist with a belt, and you’re good to go. Add a necklace if you have an extra 30 seconds to spare before racing out the door to tackle the day’s to-do list. Wear it with flats for running around day, then switch to a wedge or heel for after-hours. You’ll feel like you’re wearing your jammies all day, but you’ll look totally polished and put-together. Your yoga pants won’t even know what hit ’em.

I love this quote from my friend Kayley’s blog, Sidewalk Ready:

“While clothes may not make the woman, they certainly have a strong effect on her self-confidence… which, I believe, does make the woman.” — Mary Kay Ashe

keeping it together

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One of the questions I get most often online and in “real life” is, “How do you manage it all?” And when I stop and think about it, my life is a little crazy right now. I guess when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t realize how precarious your juggling act is. Maybe this is a survival tactic.

So here’s the God’s-honest-truth answer to that million dollar question: most of the time, I don’t.

Balls get dropped. Emails sit in my inbox and collect dust before I have a moment to wade through them. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and tip-toe into the kitchen to call my flower supplier and whisper an important forgotten order into their voicemail. I run out of underwear before I realize it’s been two weeks since I did a load of laundry. I miss networking events because all day I thought it was Tuesday, and holy #$!@ it’s Thursday. I don’t call my mom and dad enough. And that’s just the tip of the slippery iceberg, friends.

Some days, I dominate my to-do list with time and energy to spare {ahhh, those days}. Other days, I want to hide in my bed for 48 hours and pretend my looming responsibilities don’t exist. {Respect to you mommas out there who juggle work and littles; I can’t even imagine it.}

Unfortunately, you don’t get sick days when you’re the big cheese and your fate rests on your tired droopy shoulders, so I’m working on achieving more balance and organization in my day-to-day. Please note that I said working on. As in, I don’t have all the answers. But I do have a few “keep it together” practices for myself to keep me going {and I don’t even drink coffee}. Even if you’re not self-employed but feeling a little overwhelmed, try these out and see if they help!

Write it down.

Or even better, write it down twice. I pride myself on my elephant-like memory (for serious, it’s a steel trap) but even I can’t remember every little detail or customer request. I keep all of my calendars, to-do lists, and project details in a binder that goes with me just about everywhere. I love the arc customizable notebook line by Staples, because you can tailor your day planner with dozens of styles and options. I also keep pretty notebooks and colorful pens near all my workstations at home and at the shop, because — let’s be real — I’m more likely to use an organizational system if it’s cute. I also try to keep my iCalendar updated and synced with my iPhone so my schedule is always on-hand.

Eat well.

Not to be confused with it’s elitist and unachievable sister, Eat Perfectly. Go ahead, eat a cupcake and don’t beat yourself up about it, but make sure you’re fueling your body with the good stuff, too. A car can’t run on cheap gas, and you can’t run on non-fat lattes and Happy Meals. My super-healthy friend, Lisa, put this all in perspective for me one day when I was bummed about falling off my gluten-free diet wagon. She said to forget about trying to follow some unachievable diet perfectly. Just try to make more good decisions than bad, and eventually it becomes a lifestyle! I swear by green monsters and home-cooked meals. No matter how tired I am at the end of the day, I try to cook a healthy dinner every night for Chad and me.

Get a hobby. 

For me, it’s this blog. Among my other favorites are photography, jewelry-making, cooking, restyling, music, and reading . The point is to have an outlet to focus on, and to flex your creative muscle. Before I started A Pretty Penny, I thought my hobby was shopping. But it was really just a time-filler and temporary band-aid that ended up getting me in a lot of financial trouble and exacerbated my stress and anxiety.

Know when to ask for back-up.

I’m a perfectionist and control freak, and I hate to ask for help. Some sick part of my brain equates reaching out for back-up with weakness, I think. So rather than teach someone else a task so I can take it off my plate, or accept a kind offer for assistance, I prefer to do it allll myself until my plate runneth over into the dark corners of oblivion. It’s not because I want all the glory or think other people are incompetent, it’s because I guess I think I can do it all and when I do it all it will be exactly the way I want it. This is stupid. And I’m working on it. Don’t be like me. Know when you’re getting a little overloaded and need someone to step in and take some of your to-do list off your hands.

Lose the guilt.

It took me a long time to learn the power of saying no. Or, in my southern-raised case: “no, thank you.” As in, “No, thank you, I can’t make it to XYZ this weekend because I’ve had a really crazy week and I just need to clean my house and take a 6-hour nap,” or “As much as I love the cause of ABC Organization, I don’t think I can commit my time on the board this year because I’m a little overextended and probably wouldn’t be much help.” Don’t feel guilty because you can’t do it all. Otherwise you’re going to find yourself stretched thinner than plastic wrap and you’re going to be worthless in just about all of it.

Follow the 80/20 rule.

I was chatting with a relative at a family get-together last night. He’s a seasoned and accomplished businessman, who’s had several successful and different ventures throughout his career. We were talking about how busy things have been at the shop, and laughing about the myth of “business ownership equals more time and freedom” {trust me ya’ll, it does not}. He told me to always remember the 80/20 rule.

Forget the illusion that you’re going to finish 100% of your to-do list every day. Just make sure you finish at least 80% before you lock it up every night. The remaining 20% can wait until tomorrow. If it’s one of those rare and luxurious days that you finish 80% early, start on the rest and see how far you get and call it a win. But as long as you’re always operating on 80/20, and getting 80% of everything done every day, you’ll make it and be successful.

Make time for fun.

It doesn’t really matter what your idea of “fun” is, just make sure you pencil in time for plenty of it. You know what they say about all work and no play.

I’d love to hear your “keep it together” practices, too! If there’s something that works for you that I haven’t mentioned here, please share it in the comments. I’m sure we’ll all appreciate any tips we can get!

“friends don’t let friends shop retail.”

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Banana Republic tank dress (a pretty penny) | Romeo & Juliet Couture pleather jacket (via Hautelook) | Big Buddha “Aaron” clutch (via Hautelook) | Sam Edelman “Garner” Gladiator Sandals (via Hautelook

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This outfit is a like a little homage to my obsession with Hautelook, a free members-only e-tailer that’s every bargain lover’s dream.  Every morning, the site is updated with new “sales” in categories ranging from apparel and beauty to lifestyle and travel with savings up to 75% off. Speaking of 75%, as much of this outfit is made up of Hautelook purchases. Today’s events: William Rast denim (with a Deal of the Day on white ankle skinnies for $49!!), Oscar de la Renta sunnies, and Vince Camuto handbags, to name a few.

As if designer labels at deep discounts weren’t enticing enough, members receive $10 in shopping credits each time a referred friend makes a first purchase on the site. Let’s do the math: if you sign up (it’s free an easy) and email your invite link to five girlfriends, who then make a purchase, you get $50 in credits to spend on whatever your little heart desires! Kind of awesome, right?

Don’t have time to sit in front of the computer and wait for new sales to launch? There’s an app for that.

reader request video: an easy scarf how-to

After last week’s Calm Before the Storm post, several of you asked for help on styling a scarf the way I did in that outfit. Well, ask and you shall receive! I made this quick and dirty {well, not really dirty} video to show you just how easy it is.


Have suggestions for other tips or tutorials? Leave them in the comments and I’ll see what I can do! ;-)

freshly scrubbed: Simone France skincare review

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I don’t often post naked (that’s pronounced “neck-id” here in the south) photos of myself on the internets, but sometimes a girl’s gotta make a point and drastic measures are required. So here it is: un-edited photos of my freshly scrubbed face in all its makeup-free glory. My skin is better than it’s ever been, and I owe it to an online skincare company called Simone France.

I’m pretty blessed in the skin department (my mother has an amazing complexion) but it’s really sensitive and I’ve had my fair share of woes, including cystic acne. I’ve dropped big cash on department store brands and tested everything available on a drug store shelf. Everything I tried either irritated my face, or offered instant gratification but led to breakouts after a few weeks.

About two years ago, I tossed out all my heavy foundations and cosmetics and drastically simplified my makeup routine (more on that later). It made a huge difference in the health of my skin, but I still couldn’t find my holy grail skincare system to keep my skin fresh and glowy.

Simone France contacted me about reviewing their line, and after checking out their website and learning more about the brand — which focuses on simplicity, deep pore cleansing, and mild daily exfoliation — I agreed to give it a try. I told them about my skin concerns and my daily routine, and they sent back a detailed product recommendation and step-by-step instructions. I received the products the week of Thanksgiving, and I’ve used them religiously since.

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The principle philosophy of Simone France is this: it’s all about the way you clean your skin. On their website, they debunk 3 skincare myths and offer gentle, effective products for all skin types. Not sure what system will work best for you? Contact them! They give detailed email consultations to any customer that requests it to help you find the best Simone France products for your skin.

I’ll leave you with this final note: Skincare is investment-worthy. I always tell the Mister that it will cost us less in the long run if I use quality products now vs. doing expensive damage-control procedures down the road. And finding a quality line that you know works for you will save you lots of dough in experimental beauty binges.

Keep reading for the personalized consultation I received from the ladies behind the brand. Reading it was an Oprah “Ah-ha!” moment for me, and it made perfect sense!

Read more…

manic[ure] monday: falling stars

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Ever since I saw Emily’s pretty sparkly mani on Cupcakes and Cashmere, I’ve been drawn to glittery nails like a magpie to a shiny sequined handbag (that one’s for you, Lisa). I’ve seen lots of bloggers’ takes on how to do them yourself, and the easiest I found was using glitter polish and a small sponge — like an eyeshadow sponge or makeup triangle — to apply the glitter in an ombre pattern; sparsely on the nail and more concentrated toward the tip. I used Sally Hansen Insta-Dri in Beige Blast as a base with an inexpensive glitter polish from the drugstore. I’d recommend a good top coat when everything dries, otherwise the glitter will snag on everything {speaks from experience}.

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manic[ure] monday: gradient effect

I fell in love with gradient manis last year, when photos of Lauren Conrad sporting them started popping up all over the style interwebs. The good news: you don’t need five different bottles of polish to pull this look off. Keep reading for a simple how-to!

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You’ll need:

– one nail polish in the color of your choice (I used O.P.I.’s Malaga Wine)

– white nail polish (I picked up a little bottle of nail art polish for $1.99 at the drugstore)

– a good base/top coat

– nail polish remover

– a clean polish brush (use one from an old bottle of polish or a sample, and clean with nail polish remover)

– a small orange stick or toothpick

– parchment paper

Step 1: Start with clean nails, and a thin coat of base. When the base is dry, paint both of your thumb nails with the original color.

Step 2: Drop a few large drops of the original color onto parchment paper…

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… And slowly add drops of white polish until you reach your desired gradient effect. The first color you make will be the color for your pointer fingers. For a more subtle gradient, use less white; for a more drastic gradient, add more white.

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Step 3: Using a small orange stick or toothpick, carefully mix the white into the original color. Do this gently, or you’ll get a lot of air bubbles in the polish.

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Step 4: Using a clean polish brush (I used one from an old sample bottle of O.P.I. top coat, and cleaned it with nail polish remover before I got started) apply the new color to both of your pointer fingers. While they dry, soak the polish brush in a capful of nail polish remover to remove the color and get it clean and ready for the next finger.

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Repeat steps 2-4 three more times for each set of fingers (left and right), adding more white each time to make lighter and lighter shades. Seal the entire manicure with a good top coat.

product review: anastasia beverly hills “beauty express for brows and eyes”

Let’s sit down and have a little chat, girl-to-girl, about something seriously important: your eyebrows.

I’m mildly obsessed with brows. They’re one of the most important — and under-appreciated — aspects of your face. They frame your features, and getting them right can make all the difference in opening up your face and highlighting your pretty peepers.

Keep reading for the run-down…

Read more…

grey and yellow

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Striped cardi (Beall’s Outlet, clearance) | Theory scoopneck tee (a pretty penny, had to buy it) | INC dark grey jeans | yellow scarf (Beall’s Outlet, $5.99) | Nine West sandals | Liz Claiborne bag

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I braided my scarf this morning with a little help from Kayley of Sidewalk Ready! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’d probably be a hot mess standing in my closet completely clueless every morning if it weren’t for the inspiration from my fellow bloggers.

Pinterest helps, too.

Happy Friday, friends!