January 15, 2018

Guide To My Favorite Fashion Brands: What I Buy From Different Stores.

     One of the best parts about blogging is that it's pushed me as a consumer to be aware of so many more fashion retailers and brands. In middle and high school, I was definitely guilty for a few years of shopping exclusively at the "cool" mall stores like American Eagle Outfitters, Hollister, and Victoria's Secret PINK. Heaven forbid I even consider shopping somewhere else during that time in my life - ha! Nowadays, I can say that it's actually really hard for me to pick a favorite store or brand! Keeping up with fashion trends so often now, I've quite honestly discovered things that I like and dislike about almost every retailer. Of course, there are a few that I do generally prefer over others (which you'll read more about in this post), but overall I think we're living in an era when fast fashion is easy to come by from many different places, which makes blogging really fun and creative!

      I thought today's post would be fun to write though to share which retailers I turn to when shopping for certain things specifically. Such as- what's my favorite store for tights? My go-to place for sports bras? What store comes to mind when I think work appropriate blouses? You'll learn all of these things today! It doesn't mean that I won't buy my tights, sports bras, or business casual tops at multiple places of course, but there are some brands that are "tried and true" for me for some winning items, so that's what I'll be focusing on today! 

What to buy from the best stores

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     *Ann Taylor - To me, the essence of the Ann Taylor brand is fashion that is feminine, classic, understated and timeless. It's a more expensive brand/store, but everything Ann Taylor that I own I keep in my closet for years, so I see purchases there as investments instead of fast fashion. I would probably shop at Ann Taylor at lot more if there was a store in Vermont (it's one store I prefer to shop at in person), and also if I worked in a business casual work environment, but either way, it still remains a favorite of mine!
     *Ann Taylor favorites - Business casual blouses and tops

     *Anthropologie - Many of my girlfriends claim Anthropologie as their favorite store. While it isn't my top retail destination, my heart does have a soft spot for Anthro! I actually don't own any clothing items from here (surprisingly?), but I adore the home items and other accessories. Remember that gold initial mug that when viral on Instagram and Pinterest circa 2014? I still have mine and proudly use it as decoration on my blogging desk/office area! Like Ann Taylor, this is another store that I prefer to shop at in-store versus online.
      *Anthropologie favorites - Mugs

     *Belk - My favorite Southern department store!! Ah- how I miss Belk! Yet another store where I'm not a big fan of the website, so I haven't shopped there since I moved to Vermont. The SouthPark Mall location in Charlotte is one of their flagship stores, and it carried lots of high-end and premiere brands, so Belk SouthPark was always one of my favorite places to go in SouthPark. Belk's annual Belk Days sale is an amazing time to get great deals on so many items in store. There are few departments stores where I can truly say I like every department, but Belk is one of those, at least for the Charlotte locations! My favorite thing to purchase at Belk though is shoes. So many of my favorite shoe purchases are from there, and they often have great sales in the shoe department.
      *Belk favorites - Shoes at all locations, and for the SouthPark location, their Lilly Pulitzer department!

     *Banana Republic - I view Banana Republic as a three-way fusion of Gap, J. Crew, and Ann Taylor. I like Banana and have some pieces from there that I love, but it's not a store that I specifically go to when shopping for something, if that makes sense. Most of their items are pretty high quality and investment pieces, also kind of like Ann Taylor. I will say that Banana will always have a special spot in my heart as it's one of the first major fashion brands that I partnered with on my blog for a few campaigns!
      *Banana Republic favorites - Sweaters and shoes

     *Charming Charlie - During my first two years of college, Charming Charlie was 100% my favorite store in the world. It's still a retailer that I love, but my obsession might have calmed a little bit now, haha! Anyways, before my junior year of college, there actually weren't any CC locations in Charlotte! They did have some in a two-hour radius in other parts of the Carolinas, like Winston-Salem and Greenville, SC. You bet that I made trips to shop there at least once or twice a semester! I'm telling you- my devotion was strong! I've tried just about everything that Charming Charlie sells, and in the last year I've also gotten some fun PR mailers from them with blogging. There are a few stand-out products that I love though, and it's also a great store to find gifts at for girlfriends!
     *Charming Charlie favorites - Statement earrings and these hair elastics (The only ones I buy now)

     *Chicwish - This is an online retailer that was new-to-me in 2017, and I was lucky enough to start partnering with them on my blog! Sometimes as a consumer it's easy to be wary of online-only retailers, especially since I really do love the in-person shopping experience so much! I can say now that I'm definitely a fan of Chicwish though! Most of their items fit very TTS, and I've really liked just about everything I've received from them! I like Chicwish because while they sell trendy items, their clothing usually has a unique look about it that's a little different than what you see in mall stores.
     *Chicwish favorites - Skirts and sweaters (I wrote a separate blog post here about how much I love their sweaters!)

     *Dillard's - Ah - another department store that I miss dearly! Nordstrom is really the only department store that I make regular orders from online, the rest I prefer to shop at in-store. I will say, I used to be more into Dillard's a few years ago for two reasons. Their SouthPark Mall locations in Charlotte had an excellent Juniors section, and also a decently sized Vera Bradley selection in the Handbags department - which are two departments I used to shop in a lot more a few years ago! But with that said, I still really like Dillard's for other things too!
      *Dillard's favorites - Shoes and formalwear

     *DSW - Obviously this is a shoe store, so *shocker* when I say that I come here for.... shoes! What sets DSW apart from other places that I buy shoes at is that if I have a certain specific shoe style in mind that I'm looking for, whether it's a type of black heel, a certain workout sneaker, or a type of fall boot.... there's a 99% chance DSW has it, or has something very similar to what I want. They just have such an extensive selection of shoes since it's what they specialize in! Sometimes when I'm shoe shopping I check other stores first, but if I'm coming up blank, DSW usually comes to my rescue.
     *DSW favorites - Specific shoes I'm shopping for

     *Express - Express isn't one of my favorites of the mall brands, however it's one of the few stores we have here at the mall in Vermont that I actually shop at (lol but true!). I think they tend to be pretty overpriced for the quality of their clothing. With that said, during their large sale days (like Black Friday or other holidays) you can sometimes get great deals on already reduced clearance. I have some things from Express I've found on sale that I really do like. Their ExpressNEXT rewards program also isn't bad- you don't need to store credit card to sign up for it, and it's easy to get rewards.
     *Express favorites - various clothing finds on-sale

     *Forever 21 - Weird fun fact: one of my favorite Forever 21 locations EVER is in Maine!! Isn't that random? But seriously, there's a great location in the mall where I'm from. Anyways, I've been a loyal F21 shopper since high school. Since I've gotten more into online shopping with blogging, I now prefer retailers like Chicwish and Shein to Forever 21's clothing. However, I still love F21 for accessories, pajamas, and workout apparel! Their sports bra are so cheap and are my favorite!
     *Forever 21 favorites - "Going out clothes," fall hats, pajamas, and sports bras

     *Francesca's - I love the vibe and design of Francesca's stores. It really is like stepping into a cute girly boutique inside of the mall! This is yet another retailer that I really don't like shopping at online, I prefer the in-store experience. Similarly to Express, I think a lot of Francesca's clothing is very overpriced for what it is. However, this is a great store for accessories and little home trinkets. It's one of my favorite places to shop at for gifting for my girlfriends! Most years for Christmas I've bought at least a few friends presents and stocking stuffers from here!
     *Francesca's favorites - Home trinkets and accessories

     *H&M - This is a very hit or miss store with me! Another one that I prefer to shop at in-store, but my affection for H&M totally depends on the location. There were some in the Charlotte area that carried much better merchandise than others for example. I think some of their clothing is extremely cheaply made (and looks it), but other things are a great bargain for the price, and hold up very well! For example- one of my favorite coats is four years old and from H&M and I still love it, but sometimes I see other coats there that I wouldn't be caught dead in, as they look so cheaply made. I have the same views on their accessories.
      *H&M favorites - "Going out clothes" and accessories

     *J. Crew - A rare brand where I prefer its outlet version to the real thing! With that said, nothing compares to J. Crew's gorgeous line-up of winter coats. I received one for Christmas a few years ago, and it's one of my most prized possessions. Their line of statement jewelry is also gorgeous!
     *J. Crew favorites - The Lady Day coat

     *J. Crew Factory - So I totally prefer Factory to regular J. Crew! Anyone else? I've shopped there for long enough and have enough of a grasp on their sizing and styles that I shop there equally online and in-store. They're my go-to destination for preppy basics! Everything from solid colored shorts to cardigans to jewelry staples... and sometimes fun things too like cute dresses and tops!
      *J. Crew Factory favorites - Shorts and cardigans

    *Kendra Scott - Definitely one of the main brands that I fell in love with during my years in the South! Kendra Scott's jewelry is so bold and colorful, and I think it wears well with many of my wardrobe favorites. I will say that I think some of their pieces are a bit overpriced for what they are, but on the other hand some of their other jewelry I think is very fairly priced and remains some of my favorite jewelry to wear! It just depends on the pieces. When I buy Kendra online, I usually do so through Nordstrom so that I can use my Nordstrom card. Otherwise I love having the in-store experience!
     *Kendra Scott favorites - Stud earrings and cuff bracelets

     *Lauren James - Probably the preppiest place I shop at! Predominantly an online retailer, although boutiques across the country do carry Lauren James (none near Vermont though). I am obsessed with their Sweet Tee t-shirts (I just featured them in my Best Purchases of 2017 post), but I also love Lauren James's vests, shorts, and other clothing items! And they have the cutest preppy stickers.
      *Lauren James favorites - Sweet Tees

     *Lilly Pulitzer - Out of every store/brand on this list... this is the one where if asked, I'd say, "Yep, I'd like everything please!" I am 110% a Lilly girl, and so proud of it. 😊 I have a plethora Lilly accessories, had a Lilly agenda every year of college, have a rapidly growing collection of Lilly dresses, and own many other Lilly clothing items as well. And you know what? I LOVE IT ALL!!! (I'm sure that's not a shock to you if you read my After Party Sale posts!)
     *Lilly Pulitzer favorites - Dresses and Lilly drinkware (mugs especially)

     *LOFT - Probably an odd favorite thing to have about such a popular store... but I love LOFT's tights! Especially their sweater tights, they've made it possible for me to keep wearing dresses and skirts during the awful New England winter! I asked for some more for Christmas and was thrilled when my mom bought me several more pairs! This is another store, like J. Crew, where I really like their outlet! Sometimes I like the stuff LOFT outlet gets better than regular LOFT. I also like LOFT for other things, like blouses and sweaters, but I will say that I don't shop there anymore as much as I did a couple years ago, as I feel like right now with blogging LOFT is almost a little *too* popular and it seems like on Instagram every night there's at least 25 bloggers in the same LOFT outfit. No thanks!!
     *LOFT favorites - Tights

     *Nordstrom - The mother of all department stores, at least in the blogging world! Being a blogger and reaping the benefits of NSale commissions each summer (#transparency) has definitely made me start shopping more at Nordstrom, but I will say I appreciate the fact how they carry a range of high and low end brands. And I love the free shipping! Even when I lived in Charlotte where there was a large store, this is a rare store that I prefer online shopping at to the in-store experience. And now in Vermont I don't have a choice, so online it is!
     *Nordstrom favorites - Large Tory Burch selection (I purchase most of my Tory stuff here so I can get card points), the BP exclusive line

     *Nordstrom Rack - I'm also a big fan of Nordstrom's budget friendly sister store! While Rack is a much better shopping experience in-store, I'm very spoiled as there's an awesome Rack in Maine, and my broadcasting school wasn't far from the Charlotte one. Nordstrom Rack visits are always surprising- you could do amazingly and end up with a penny deal, you might not find anything, or you could find lots of things!
      *Nordstrom Rack favorites - Shoes and jewelry

     *Ross - I don't actually know too many bloggers who admit to liking shop at Ross. There aren't any Ross stores in New England, so I was unfamiliar with it until I moved to NC for college. It didn't take me long to fall in love though! You can't get lower deals on clothing than Ross. Except maybe Walmart.... but let's avoid that. 😉 Ross is an extremely no-frills shopping experience, and selection varies of course from store to store, but I've had many Ross trips where I have STRUCK GOLD, and found things like the cutest sweaters, skirts, and tops! Seriously- one basic striped top that I wear almost weekly to work was a Ross find last year for under $10. Also- they have a huge two-story store on the Las Vegas strip that I've visited on both of my Vegas trips and will probably visit on future trips too! Can you tell I'm a Ross enthusiast? #noshame
     *Ross favorites - Dresses

    *Shein - This is an online exclusive retailer that I was very wary of before I first ordered from there. All of their prices are insanely cheap (think $15 and under for most things), and they're China based, so I didn't know if it was legit. I'm here to report that Shein is one of those rare things in life that is too good to be true! I've now placed tons of orders through them over the last couple years and also worked with them on my blog. There's been some items that were of low quality or didn't fit well, but for the most part, I love everything! If it's taken care of well, it holds up pretty well. You can also read the customer reviews before purchasing! The items that have the most reviews are usually the best bets.
     *Shein favorites - Workout leggings and swimwear

     *Talbots - This is actually my mom's favorite store! She started shopping there more often when I was in high school, and buying me things from there. Then I started shopping there too! While some things from Talbots have a bit of a mature look to them (more suited for women my mom's age), there are lots of things in the store that look great on 20 somethings as well. The word that comes to mind when I think of Talbots is "classic." If you bought something from Talbots five years ago, you can still wear it now without question! While I have lots of clothing from there, the items that I actually own the most of are their accessories. If Charming Charlie is my favorite place for statement jewelry, it would be Talbots for  simple and understated costume jewelry.
     *Talbots favorites - Jewelry and Scarves

     *Target - I go through weird phases with Target's clothing. Some seasons I love everything and I buy tons of it, and other times I go months without buying a thing. I loved their Lilly for Target collection in 2015, and I've also liked some of the other limited edition lines. Two things that I've always bought at Target and will probably continue to buy there though are swimwear and basic t-shirts.
      *Target favorites - Swimwear, t-shirts, and the Sugarfix by Baublebar exclusive jewelry line

     *TJ Maxx / Marshall's - Alright y'all don't hate me for saying this.... I'm actually not too big of a Maxxinista! (Or whatever the equivalent is for Marshall's.) I think despite the fact their prices are lower than department stores, they're often still too high for the quality of what they're selling. That's why I prefer Ross- pretty much everything is $20 and under there! I rarely buy clothing now at TJ Maxx or Marshall's. I do like both stores though for home items, gifting supplies (like gift bags), and shoes. TJ Maxx does have some good shoe finds, but it's hit or miss depending on location and the season.
     *TJ Maxx / Marshall's favorites - Home accessories and shoes

     *Zara - One of my newer favorite stores, but I'm oh so in love with it! I especially love shopping there when I travel. Montreal, just over the border from Burlington, has tons of great Zara locations which is been fun to discover! Zara carries such modern and different twists on basic items. Everything they sell has a city-chic feel to it. I recently discovered their denim and I LOVE it, but besides for that I don't really have a favorite thing here! I honestly like everything.
     *Zara favorites - Jeans and blanket scarves

     I hope that you enjoyed today's blog post!! Do we share any favorite stores?

     Have a wonderful start to your week!

      God Bless,

       xoxo Annaliese   


January 12, 2018

2017's Best Blog Blooper Photos.

     Today it's time to show off the less staged and put-together side of blogging! Let's laugh together and take a look back at the best photography bloopers from 2017 on Southern Belle in Training. In my earlier years of blogging, I used to try and share blooper photos every few months. There's no reason really why I stopped doing it (I guess as my blog grew and I got busier with sponsored content, that took first priority!), but I still love looking at the funny outtake photos from time to time, so let's do that again today! 😉 The original blog post that each photo appeared in will be linked by each picture.

     June 2017: "One Maxi Dress Two Ways: Breezy Daytime Look"

     I titled this blog post "Breezy Daytime Look" for a reason! This dress was super fun to let blow in the summer breeze (Melissa and I shot these photos lakeside in Burlington), but at the same time, there were also a lot of fun outtakes, like this one. What even is going on with my hair?! Between the dress and hair... too much to keep hold of!

      October 2017 at Vermont Country Store (never blogged this outfit)

     One thing that happens a lot with blogging photography is that the camera is still clicking away even as I'm adjusting poses or moving to a new spot! That's exactly what happened in the photo above! I think I was already over the poses I had done in this spot - ha!

     December 2017: "Vermont Holiday Look"

     This was one of the coldest days that I've ever been outside doing blog photos in! Serious props to Amanda for toughing the cold with me and shooting four outfits that day. We did manage to get some cute shots for this outfit despite it being 10 degrees outside, but of course in between pictures I let my distaste for the weather show... which was captured so well in the picture above! (At least my eye makeup looks cool in this shot?)

     September 2017: "Late Summer PR Packages Review."

     My parents kindly help out with my photography needs for Southern Belle in Training when I'm visiting home in Maine, we're traveling together, or they're here in Vermont and I need a quick Instagram photo or have something come up. I love the fact they're able to help with this! My mom is an artist and photographer (for her job) so her images are usually beautiful. My dad on the other hand.... photographer in training. 🙂 The picture above is one of his outtakes, and the ones following are as well. We sure do have fun when he helps with my blog photos, but let me just say it takes a LOT of effort to get the photos with him that you'll actually see featured in a blog post!

     July 2017: "I Tried LipSense - My Honest Review!"

     I shot the photos for this post at home in Maine this summer with my dad... this was a favorite outtake. Man oh man.... haha!!

     August 2017: "Nautical Lilly Pulitzer Look"

     During my dad's summer visit to Vermont, we took a sunset lake cruise one night on Lake Champlain. It provided the perfect backdrop for some blog photos! We did end up getting some that I loved, but with the crazy wind on the boat there were also tons of funny ones of me trying to tame my hair.

     November 2017: "New Must Have Cardigan"

     On my dad's fall visit to see me, we ventured across the lake to Plattsburgh, NY. I'd always wanted to do blog photos in their downtown so that was kind of fun. This picture though was my favorite outtake, it reminds me of the iconic scene in Princess Diaries where Princess Mia is being taught how to wave!

     And lastly... as I mentioned my parents help me out from time to time with photography on the blog... they also enjoy trying their hand at imitating my blog poses from time to time as well. 😉

     Hope that you enjoyed my 2017 edition of blogger bloopers!! Wishing you a wonderful start to you weekend as well. TGIF- we made it!! I'm very excited about this weekend for two reasons. One: today it is 50 degrees! Granted it's raining all day... but STILL, that is 60 degrees warmer than it was last weekend in Vermont! (Yes... -10 last weekend.) Secondly, I have tomorrow off! I haven't had any Saturdays off from work since starting my job, minus the couple that I've used PTO for when I've been traveling out-of-state. But I actually have tomorrow off to enjoy to myself. Ahhhh!! I forgot what having a Saturday off looks like. This won't be a weekly happening, but I'm planning to try and really enjoy this weekend.

     God Bless,

     xoxo Annaliese

January 11, 2018

It's Not Too Late for a Resolution... Here's How to Save Almost $1,400 This Year!

      Today's post might be a Southern Belle in Training first! I'm bringing back old blog content, I think the technical term is "repurposing." I've seen other bloggers do this time and time again with their most popular posts, and I'm all about trying new things, so I figured it's time I finally give this a try in 2018! One of my most popular blog posts of all time was one that I wrote in December 2016, entitled "How I Saved Almost $1,400 in 2016." As I wrote in that post, at the time that was one of the only New Year's resolutions in my life that I'd ever successfully kept! I'm doing the same savings plan again for 2018, so I thought I would revisit this popular blog post again, because at only 10 days into January it's not too late to add on another resolution for the year, especially one that's so easy and financially beneficial!

      To recap: in December 2015 (when I was a senior in college), I knew that my savings account needed some work. In order to keep more money in my checking account, I had kept pulling money out of my savings for "fun" expenses during fall semester of my senior year, like weekend trips, nights out, sorority expenses, etc. Nothing that qualified as an emergency expense or a good reason to pull money out of savings. I knew I need to start revaluing the difference between my checking and savings accounts, and starting building my savings again. I wanted to find a savings plan that I could complete in 2016. My goal was to have at minimum $1,000 in savings by the end of the year, but hopefully more.

     I was so excited when I found the 52-Week Savings plan! I decided to complete it in 2016, and can tell y'all now that I was SUCCESSFUL that year in doing so! 😊 I was seriously so excited when I wrote my first blog post about this savings plan in 2016- prior to this, I had never had much luck with completing a New Year's resolution! It is the easiest thing in the world to do if you commit to it- are you ready for this?

      You transfer the dollar amount from your checking to your savings account that matches up to the week of the year that it is, and do this every week for 52 weeks. So last week, the first week in January, transfer $1! This week is the second week of the year, so it's $2. The first week in March is the 10th week of the year, so $10 goes into savings. And so on and so forth. Amounts do get higher as the year goes on, and they're highest in November and December, as those are later weeks of the year. (That is something to be aware of and prepare for, as holiday expenses need to be factored into a budget during the end of the year, but you don't want to lose sight of the savings plan either.) Trust me though- you will feel AMAZING when you deposit that $52 and complete the plan during the last week of December.

      All in all, if you complete the plan for all 52 weeks, you'll have $1,378 in your savings account at the end of the year. WOW! That's a whole emergency savings account right there. If you already do have money in savings, you can still do this plan and could use the money to make a significant payment on your student loans, or put it towards an amazing vacation for the following year. If you think you're not able to commit to doing this- let me convince you otherwise! I was a full-time student with minimal income from babysitting and blogging during the year that I did this, and I was still able to complete it. This year I'm excited to tackle it with both my primary bank account (where my job paychecks go) and also my blogging bank account. Double the savings, double the benefits at the end of the year!

     When I did this savings plan the first time in 2016 I was still regularly using a Lilly Pulitzer agenda for school, so I went through at the start of the year and wrote down how much I'd be depositing into savings on each Monday, so that I wouldn't forget to do it! Now I use iCal on my phone and computer to manage my life instead of an agenda, so I went through and already set deposit reminders for every week for the next few months. Be sure to either write down or set electronic deposit reminders- whatever works best for you!

     Last week's deposit amount was only $1, so it's not too late if you still want to join me in this challenge!! You would simply make a $3 deposit this week. I promise you won't regret doing this... your savings account will thank you, and at the end of the year you'll have a lot of financial peace of mind!

     To check out the original blog post that I wrote about doing this- click here!

     Become more educated about personal finance is a goal of mine for this year and next. The first book that I'm reading in 2018 is actually about financial literacy for millennials and so far I'm loving it! Please let me know if you'd like to see more blog posts/content on these topics as I continue to educate myself!!

     God Bless,

     xoxo Annaliese