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Ellen Zacarias

Hey there. I’m Ellen, and I graduated with a lit/writing degree from UCSD. As the chosen major suggests, I love books and working with text, and in addition to that, my other interests include style, MBTI and travel.

When I’m not working, reading or writing, I enjoy walking along trails, spending time with my family, and thinking about imaginary realms and characters.

You can contact me at ellen.ly@gmail.com.

Style Resolutions for the New Year

Happy New Year! What are your New Year’s resolutions? My own list has a lot of fitness-related resolutions, but it’s also important (and fun!) to include style resolutions for the upcoming 2015. 

Here is what I’m putting on my 2015 style resolution list. Feel free to add some of these to yours!

1. Slouch Less

Slouching can ruin an otherwise stylish outfit, unless I’m channeling my inner angsty teen uniform with rubber bracelets and skull tees. As fun as it was to wear skull T-shirts, I’m more attracted to polka dots and purple now. Even then, one is so much more approachable when standing upright. Slouching forces my body to face the ground instead of towards other people. Sitting up straight elongates my torso and can help me think better because I am taking in more air.

2. Style My Hair (Differently)

In college, my hair languished in giant claw clips when it wasn’t down. At work, my go-to look is the simple ponytail. I consider it a step up. I’m embarrassingly inexperienced in styling the back of my head–I admire how some people are able to braid (and especially twirl a bun!) by themselves. I’ll be looking up guides on hairstyling and pick a few to practice until I get better. Lauren Conrad’s blog has lots of cute guides on simple hairstyles for work. Check it out!

3. Indulge in Animal Prints and Other Patterns

I often tell myself that animal prints aren’t “me”. I associate leopard prints with cougars (the cat!), old ladies, and flashier (and super fabulous) designers such as Betsey Johnson. Maybe I’ve read far too many times that one should always pair certain colors with other colors. As a result, sometimes my mild choices in daily garb can be predictable. Nothing wrong with that, but with a new year comes an adventure to try new things. I can make animal prints work for me in small doses, such as a scarf or a necklace charm, before I’m ready to move on to a large item, such as tights or a handbag.

4. Pay Attention to Home Decor

I must admit that I am a clutter fiend. I use my desk as storage rather than a workspace. A glance at my desk yields a stunning view of take-out trays, graphic novels, a mug, nail polish removal, and a cookie tin…enough said. Home decor is also a form of fashion and style, and therefore my goal is to at least keep clutter out, because that stuff can kill a theme. Currently, my theme is purple: I have purple Christmas lights running along the wall and a desk lamp with giant crystal gems along the stem as well as a purple lampshade.

5. Follow the Rhythm of My Own Heartbeat

Life (especially youth!) is too short to worry about fitting into convention (unless, of course, the dress code at your school or internship demands it). Now that I’m working in a conservative field, I wonder why I didn’t experiment more with purple highlights while in college. I have a fascination with lip color but am often too timid to wear it opaquely. My goal is to throw away my notions of conventional attractiveness and follow the rhythm of my own heartbeat. I can start slow, by working in more color gradually so that it’s not a shock of magenta on my face…at least not at first. Chances are that my own apprehensiveness is misplaced. I want to look back at 2015 and see all the fun I had being bold and adventurous!

Did any of these resolutions resonate with you? What are your style resolutions for 2015? 

Four Affordable Activewear Lines

When I first started working out, I wasn’t sure how to build my activewear wardrobe without spending too much cash. I hit up the local Big 5 for a pair of shorts and used my normal cotton tank. Needless to say, by the end of my workout, I was soaked and sweaty with cold cotton clinging to my back after each workout. I wanted cuter, better-functioning workout clotheA A s.

After some trials and errors over the past few years, I’ve come up with a short list of four affordable activewear lines for people on a budget:

Forever 21

You’ve probably seen the racks of colorful sports bras and the tights. The sports bras come in candy colors (as well as highlighter yellow—good for the dark) and average at around 9 to 10 bucks, while there are some clothes that are so cute that make you want to gauge your eyeballs out. Okay, maybe not that part. But they are cute.

One thing to keep in mind is that Forever 21’s sports bras aren’t very breathable compared to moisture-wicking sports bras that you might be accustomed to. It’s a great place to build your activewear closet if you’re starting an exercise routine, but you’ll probably feel a lot cooler while running or doing other cardio in a moisture-wicking bra. Whenever I come home from running in one of the Forever 21 sports bras, they’re usually soaked in sweat, compared to my other sports bras with moisture wicking properties. If you’re planning on becoming a cardio queen, then you might want to find better bras. But if you’re lifting weights, doing yoga, or any other activity that won’t leave you drenched in sweat, then these bras are the way to go.

I like their tops a lot because they come in exciting designs. If you’re planning on buying bottoms, I would recommend that you try them on in the store instead of ordering them online, since they fit weird and some of the tights can look funky on pear-shaped bodies.

Xersion @ JC Penney

This one came as quite a surprise to me. Xersion covers both women’s and men’s activewear, and both are of great quality. My favorite pieces from this line are the capri pants, which I’ve been using for more than a year. The capri length is great for my petite and short-legged frame. 😉

The pieces cost a bit more than Forever 21, but JC Penney offers coupons, and Xersion activewear actually contains moisture-wicking properties. Keep an eye out for JC Penney sales or coupons before going in to look for some clothes, and browse the activewear clearance racks for great deals.

C9 by Champion @ Target

Champion is well known for its quality gear. The C9 line offers some plus-size options too, at least on Target’s website. When I think of C9 designs, they aren’t as edgy or ultra-trendy as those of Forever 21. The designs tend to stick to the basics, along with a few subtle twists such as a ruched sleeve.

Danskin @ Walmart

I’ll confess—I was skeptical when I first heard of the Danskin line from Walmart. However, I walked into the store one day and saw a bunch of sports capris ranging from $12 to $19. I was in price heaven. I’ve run in these a few times, and they feel great. They come in plain black and also in print designs, which are trending right now. I do wish the activewear tanks were slightly form fitting as opposed to completely loose, but that’s just me nitpicking.

Other Alternatives:

Thrift Stores – If the thought of wearing clothes that someone else has soaked through with sweat doesn’t make you go eww inside, then go for it!
Discount Brand Name Stores – Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory, etc. – Stores like TJ Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory are a great way to find brand name (and high quality) gear at lower prices. If you like designer duds, you should definitely give these a try.
Brand Store Outlets – Nike. Adidas. If you’re devoted to a particular brand for a specific type of product (like tanks from Nike, for example), then try going to their outlet stores.
 

Fashion Designer Oscar de la Renta Dies At 82

If you ever wanted to look like a princess, Oscar de la Renta would have had the perfect design in mind for you.

Oscar de la Renta, a long-time, revered designer who enrobed stars and political royalty in glamorous dresses for decades, died on Monday, October 20, 2014 at the age of 82.

It would be impossible to pick up a magazine covering red carpet events without seeing at least one dress designed by Oscar de la Renta. He had designed dresses for celebrities like Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz and Oprah Winfrey, as well as gowns for several first ladies of the United States, from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama.

So who was this man behind the designs? How did he get to the place he was?

Oscar de la Renta grew up in the Dominican Republic and went to study painting in Spain, where he worked part-time jobs drawing clothes for newspapers and fashion houses. One day, Francesca Lodge, the wife of the US ambassador to Spain, saw de la Renta’s sketches and gave him a commission to create a dress for her daughter. That dress was soon featured in Life magazine.

De la Renta started out studying painting, but after his dress received attention, he started looking into the fashion business, and eventually acquired an apprenticeship with one of the fashion houses in Spain. Eventually, after working for a couple of fashion houses in the United States, he finally had a fashion house of his own.

His career took off, but de la Renta’s mind was always working on new ideas. He has expanded beyond clothing to venture in other realms, such as home furnishing and fragrances. In 2006, he created a bridal line, which was perfect for his style of work since he specialized so much in formal gowns. He could take elements such as ruffles, rosettes, and lace and put them together in a way that is timeless. I can’t see any of his designs ever becoming called “tacky”.

Photo: Oscar de la Renta, Bridal 2013, Look 27

Not only did he design specific dresses for celebrities, he also owned retail stores that sold ready-to-wear designs (at expensive prices, of course).

I would characterize his designs as feminine, classic, and even a bit whimsical – definitely a world away from what we would consider loud and edgy. It’s a different form of beauty that focuses on the old-school brand of romantic. The continuous use of classic themes like roses, lace and ruffles might seem boring to some, but I never cease to be breath-taken by his spins on classic textures and materials. There’s always some new, subtle spin in each design. 

As Oscar de la Renta famously said, “I’m not interested in shock tactics. I just want to make beautiful clothes.” 

If you want to learn more about his life or see his work, check out this page on his fashion website: http://www.oscardelarenta.com/the-house/

The United Kingdom’s Metro has done a feature on Oscar de la Renta’s Most Iconic Dresses Worn By Hollywood’s A-List.

From the Lab: A Skincare and Beauty Subscription Box

All those late-night study sessions, parties, and even plain old stress can take a toll on our skin by the middle of the semester—not just the skin beneath our eyes. Heck, my skin can definitely use a good pampering from all those sleepless nights, as well as a little something extra to spice up my skincare regimen.

A subscription box that specializes in skincare is From the Lab. All the cash going into ads for a typical beauty product can really jack up its prices, whether it’s high-end or not.

From the Lab has a deal with beauty labs to gain access to the formulas (which are held to strict European safety standards). With the formulas in their hands, From the Lab can release innovative goodies months before they hit the stores. Instead of all the cash going into advertising campaigns and fancy packaging, From the Lab stores the products in generic containers, which look sleek and simple. Essentially, we’d get getting the newest, high-quality beauty products on the market minus the advertising and packaging.

A typical From the Lab subscription box:

• $19.95/month + shipping & handling ($5.95) = $25.90/month (as of 10/4/2014)

• Comes in a pink mailing box with thick silver tissue paper

• 1 to 3 full-sized products

• A pamphlet with information about each product

• No fancy names for products; just numbers (ex. “24-Hour Face Cream No. 578”)

From the Lab sent me two boxes of their products for review. I was nervous about my sensitive skin breaking out from using some of the products (like it would dissolve into irritation spots if you looked at it the wrong way).

My Thoughts:

The box is great if you’re looking for high-quality skincare products to incorporate into your routine. I would like to see a “profile” option in the future that lets you personalize the sort of products you want or the skin type that you have (oily, combination, dry, sensitive, etc). Below are my thoughts on some of the products:

• One of the products sent to me for review was the AM/PM Cleanser No. 586. Good, I thought, I was about to run out of face soap. Then I looked the pamphlet for the AM/PM Cleanser, which said, “AM/PM Cleanser No. 586 improves on traditional micellar waters that use oil—“
Oil?! I have to put oil on my face?
“—to encapsulate and dissolve makeup, dirt, and pollution by introducing non-comedogenic oil-free cleansing molecules…”
Oh, so this product doesn’t use oil. It uses oil-free cleansing molecules instead. And it’s non-comedogenic. Phew.
I applied the cleanser to a cotton ball and swiped it across my face. It didn’t leave a residue. My face felt clean minus the irritated feeling. All this without rinsing.
Net weight: 6.7 fl. Oz.

• Face Mask No. 598. The face mask looks like a little jar of light-green pudding (I wanted to eat it), but it applies clear. My skin started to tingle a bit but there was no burning, and upon rinsing it off, there was also no redness, so it’s friendly on sensitive skin. Net weight: 0.95 oz.

Face Primer No. 327. A bit runny for my taste. Leaves a slight sheen that evaporates quickly, leaving a smooth surface to work with. This primer comes in a pump bottle. 0.81 oz.

• Lip Color Stick No. 336. An orange-red lip crayon with a ton of product that I can twist up as I use it. I was sent Numbers 336, 337, and 335, but I’m writing about No. 336. It’s really easy to apply (but I’d still recommend some sort of lip primer) and has a bit of shimmer (heads up). I love these lip color sticks! 0.09 oz.

Find out more information on From the Lab here.

Chef: A Movie for Foodies and Anyone Who Likes to Eat

Chef (2014) came out earlier this year on limited release (only in certain theaters). Carl Casper is a chef who works under creative constraints in a fancy restaurant where he’s expected to make profitable dishes. A food critic’s negative review of his food leads to Carl’s emotional outburst in front of the entire restaurant that explodes on the internet, because of course, this is 2014. He starts a food truck and goes on a trip with his son and pal.

I was expecting sensual scenes similar to the “eat” part in Eat, Pray, Love (2009) (the chopping board with the colorful, super-crunchy vegetables), and while there were a few of them here, the story focuses more on the development in Carl’s career and family life. The most memorable cooking scene is where Carl makes grilled cheese sandwiches in his apartment for his son. The crispy crunch sounds as they bit into their sandwiches made me hate the movie for a moment. Because I wanted some.

The prep scenes capture the kitchen’s hectic pace of cooking for customers, when that machine spitting out the order receipts puts immense pressure on the kitchen staff to make food fast and delicious.

Ramsey Michel’s role as an online food critic in the movie introduces the significance of online social networking. Carl was already well known as a chef among foodies, but the viral explosion of his outburst leads to fame. Carl’s son tweets about their food truck (pictures, location, etc), which leads to massive crowds waiting outside the food truck wherever they go.

Why so much Twitter in this movie? Twitter has played a huge role in making food trucks popular in cities like Los Angeles. Unlike restaurants set in buildings, food trucks can be here today, gone tomorrow. A food truck’s Twitter account can update fans and followers on where they will be on a particular day, thus ensuring regular turnout and a more consistent relationship between customers and the food truck.

Therefore, it is no surprise that social networking and smart phones are used as a major plot devices in this movie. Featuring the most cutting-edge social networking tools makes the film extremely current, hip, and relevant to 2014. This also means that it would date easily, not that it’s a bad thing—I see it as a time capsule for the food truck scene in 2014.

As for the characters, my heart goes out to Martin, who is the best and most loyal pal that anyone could ever ask for. He gives up his new position as sous-chef to follow Carl into his food truck business. John Leguizamo plays Martin with charismatic radiance, imbuing the character with a magnetic personality that comes in handy when Carl needs some help lifting heavy machinery into his truck. I would have liked to find out more about the roots of Martin’s devotion to his chef friend, but the film doesn’t leave much room for that since it focuses on Carl’s career as a chef.

Molly (Scarlett Johansson), a waitress at the restaurant that Carl worked at before quitting, vanishes after a half-point in the movie. She shares a romantic, unofficial relationship with Carl but then she disappears, which is normal in real life but awkward in a movie because she had appeared to be an important character, but then her character is discarded after halfway into the movie.

Despite Molly’s odd disappearance, Chef is a sensual watch for foodies or anyone interested in in the food (truck) scene. Just be prepared with a snack—it will make you very hungry.

You will also like: 3 Reasons Why You Should Go Ahead And Learn How To Cook

Five Plus-Sized Fashion Bloggers to Follow

There are a plethora of fabulous, plus-size fashion bloggers to find wardrobe inspiration from, many who defy the typical rules given to plus-sized girls on what bigger people can or cannot wear. This is just a taste of what is out there. As you scroll through these blogs, you’ll find SO MUCH EYE CANDY and countless gorgeous combinations of patterns and cuts. Channel your fashionista spirit alongside these sisters:

Curvy Girl Chic

Blog intro: “Hi! I’m Allison, shopaholic and shoe fanatic with a penchant for high heels. Pants are highly overrated.”

Curvy Girl Chic is great for getting out of that jeans rut that we fall into whenever life gets extremely busy. The photography is amazing, and it captures all the rich textures, colors, and patterns of the outfits she wears. She’s really pro at coordinating pieces. Get ready for some high-fashion looks.

Styled by Reah

Reah posts videos and guides on how to wear basic pieces for the plus-sized woman, as well as features on the fashion world. Her guides are cute and concise. I would place her style as classic and modern. Check her out!

Diamonds n Pearls

Looking for something edgier? Naomi’s style consists of graphic shirts, jeans, stylish sneakers, and edgy outerwear. She has recently begun an exercise program along with therapy for health reasons (including depression), but assures her readers that even though she might look a little different in pictures, she will still remain in the plus-sized fashion scene. Along with her edgy outfits are also false lashes and gorgeous makeup. She reminds me of Katy Perry in some ways, probably her intense eyes with the dark hair and pale skin.

U Can’t Wear That

Part of Lucia’s intro: “…What I think we are still not seeing enough of is plus size women on the larger end of the scale looking just as fabulous in the latest trends. I wear a UK dress size 30 and I am a massive fan of fashion (yes pun intended x), with that being said I dont feel like women my size should limited in what we wear, as long as fashionable clothes are available to us I don’t feel like society should have any bearing on whether we purchase these items and wear them proudly.”

I love her outlook on life, body positivity, and her down-to-earth writing voice. She’s got what she’s got, and she loves it. Lucia radiates a defiant, confident charisma in her photographs, and her style varies but she seems to love dresses. The commentary on her photos and life is engaging and fun to read. I really feel like I connect with her.

Sugar, Darling?

If you’re in the mood for alternative fashion, Nancy’s style features tattoos and a vintage flair. Along with fashion, she also posts about life, alternative makeup looks (think green or black lipstick), cooking, and plus-sized fashion businesses. Her photographs are beautiful too, and she loves boots.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Morally Ambiguous Heroes

When the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy first came out, I laughed at the funny bits but didn’t think it’d be that great of a movie due to my prejudices against funky-looking characters and my preconceived notions of what heroes should be: bigger than life people who care about the Bigger Cause. 

This movie proved my notions so wrong, and has greatly expanded the scope of what I think Marvel is capable of in the types of heroes they feature on the big screen.

When a thief, assassin, bounty hunters, and an ex-prison inmate get together, they don’t do it for the sole sake of saving the world (at least, not at first). Money is their motive for working together…at first. Appealing to greed is also the way that Gamora gets the rest of the gang to agree to group up. An illuminating scene to this selfish mindset is from the prison breakout in which Peter, in his quest to retrieve his cassette player, leaves Gamora with an empty bag–knowing that the group would ditch him if they had the orb.

The Guardians kill, steal, and punch people in the faces (which is why they’re outcasts with no friends), and they’re furious at the world. But they are also misguided people who can care.

After they save the world, they don’t completely switch into the completely-moral mindset. With their apathy to “society”, each of these characters (except maybe Peter and Gamora) has the potential to be a villain. I could see Drax taking reckless measures for vengeance to kill Ronan that would lead to the deaths of innocent lives, not because he intended to, but because he was just too reckless.

Saving the orb from Ronan is the redeeming mission that takes these characters from common misfits of society to being the heroes and guardians of the galaxy, because it’s the first selfless thing that any of the Guardians have done for the larger society. Sure, Rocket and Groot have always cared about each other, but Rocket has had a horrible life and doesn’t give a darn about the rest of the galaxy. Even when he makes his decision to join his friends in stopping Ronan, it appears that he does it out of loyalty to his friends (especially Groot) rather than his concern for people. I still enjoyed the poignant but short scenes in which Drax shows his appreciation for his new companions. The film keeps these sweet scenes short to maintain the cranky edge that these criminal misfits have.

It’s also important to note that there is no complete 180-degree turn from their old ways. This makes it a lot more believable for me because it hints at growth but doesn’t transform them into morally upright strangers. Becoming heroes of the galaxy doesn’t turn them off from immoral activities like killing and stealing, as we can see from Drax and Rocket’s funny comments justifying their need for murder and theft before they board the new spaceship.

They’re definitely criminals, but are they evil? The Guardians prefer to keep their illegal businesses within the underground, black market side and don’t have interest in regular, innocent civilians. Since they’re not all that interested in harming people unless the situation calls for it, I’d keep them at mostly chaotic neutral, except for that redeeming mission in which they placed the well-being of the galaxy over their own lives. And on a cheesy and much-less-epic level, I can relate to them in that I’m just a morally average person, but like the rest of my fellow Terrans, I have the potential to step up to the plate to do selfless things for the people I care about as well as my larger community.

By the way, the Guardians of the Galaxy is still doing insanely well in theaters. I like to think that the hilariously morally ambiguous characters resonated with a larger audience, but maybe the movie is just that good. 

How to Transition Your Summer Staples into Fall

The days of summer dresses, tanks, and shorts are coming to an end—sooner or later, depending on where you live. As autumn approaches, it’d be great to get more use out of these pieces so that they don’t languish in the back of your closet. These ideas can also help you break out of a jeans-shirt-sweater combo rut:

Tights and Leggings Are Your Best Friend

Wear tights or leggings under dresses, shorts, and skirts, and preferably not alone. In some places, it can be FREEZING in the mornings, so some of my colder-climate friends wear two layers of leggings on top of each other. Black leggings and tights are staples, but you can also play around with textures, designs, and other colors if you have the cash and closet space. I personally love dark gray leggings because they go well with both black and brown shoes.

For a slimming and lengthening effect when pairing shorts with leggings, try to match the colors to create a monochromatic effect—the eye just slides down your legs instead of being drawn to cut-off spots that shorten the look of your legs.

Leggings go with flats, boots, sneakers, and occasionally sandals.

Boots Are Also Your Best Friend

Swap out the sandals for boots as temperatures start dropping, lest you grow icicles for toes. I’m a sucker for fall shopping because I love the riding boots that I start seeing everywhere around this season. Boots are a lot warmer than flats, and like with leggings, you can double-layer socks if you need to. There are many lengths for boots, but I would recommend the classic calve-to-knee length boot because it’s a lot more versatile and flattering for many body shapes than the ankle- or thigh-length boots. If you have wide, muscular calves like I do, there are also wide-calve options in department stores.

Black, gray, and brown are the most versatile colors, but there are other colors (depending on your wardrobe and style) that look amazing as well, such as red and yellow boots.

Pay attention to heel size. The first pair of boots I ever purchased had two- to three-inch blocky heels, but I preferred the wide strides that flat heels provide, so eventually I purchased some completely flat-heeled boots for trekking across campus.

Summer dresses go well with boots, along with skirts and skinny jeans.

Black Turtlenecks and Long Sleeves Make Great Buddies for Short-Sleeved Dresses

You can layer a turtleneck or a basic, sheer long-sleeved shirt beneath a summer dress. This combo looks really good with black tights or leggings too. To avoid bulk, choose a turtleneck or long-sleeved shirt that is lightweight and somewhat form-fitting.

Other Layering Ideas

  • Tank top beneath a sweater for extra insulation and also to absorb sweat so that your sweater doesn’t smell too funky if you head into a stuffy-warm classroom or dining hall after being out in the cold.
  • Long sleeves beneath vest.
  • Motorcycle Jacket/Cardigan/Blazer/Light Jacket + Summery Blouse + Shorts + Leggings
  • Sweater + Summer Dress + Tights + Flats
  • Add a scarf over everything.

What You Shouldn’t Layer

Unfortunately, some combinations just look just plain awkward, such as sandals with socks. Sandals look horrible with socks, unless you’re a kid with watermelon socks. Then that’s okay.

Birchbox vs Ipsy: Which Beauty Subscription Box Suits You More?

Comparing Monthly Beauty Subscription Boxes

Subscription boxes are one of the most popular fads right now. There are monthly “flow” boxes, lifestyle boxes, pop culture boxes, and my fave of all, beauty boxes, which send you makeup and skincare products in each package. I’ve seen a girl walking out of the campus post office with two metallic pink packages tucked under her arms! 

Two of the most popular beauty subscription boxes are Birchbox and Ipsy. But every person is different, so here’s an overview of what either of them are about:

Birchbox

  • $10/month for Women’s box, $20/month for Men’s box
  • Grooming, makeup, skincare, lifestyle
  • Items received are sample-sized
  • Customizable preferences page 
  • Wide range of brands participating, such as DKNY and Fekkai

My Experience with Birchbox

I received a lot of makeup, some with prestigious brand names, but since they were samples, they didn’t last me very long. I found out that I prefer full-sized (or at least larger-sized) products in my monthly box.

Ipsy

  • $10/month 
  • Monthly box comes with 4-5 items and a makeup bag 
  • Customizable experience using profile quiz and product reviews
  • More full-sized products but occasionally you get a sample or two
  • Brands vary between indie and prestigious brands like Urban Decay

My Experience with Ipsy

Sometimes I get a dud or two in my box, like the tanning oil in July (I don’t use tanning oil, and my profile reflects this…so why?!), but for the most part I enjoy the larger sizes and the cute makeup bag that comes every month. 

Beauty Subscription Boxes: Birchbox vs. Ipsy

Which of these two beauty subscription boxes is for you?

Beauty subscription boxes are the rage among beauty-obsessed college students. During spring quarter, I recalled seeing a girl walking out of the post office with TWO Ipsy shipping bags (you know, the pink foil kind) tucked under her arm.

There are two subscription box services that have been consistent, reliable and insanely popular: Birchbox and Ipsy. They both cost 10 dollars a package and deliver monthly. But how does each of them actually work? Here are the details:

Birchbox

  • $10/month for Women’s subscription, $20/month for Men’s subscription
  • Makeup, skincare, hair care, lifestyle
  • Sampling service – all items are samples 
  • Big brands like Keratase
  • Shop — can buy full-sized versions of the samples after you try them
  • Customizable beauty profile helps you find your ideal samples

My Experience with Birchbox

I received a tiny mascara, some BB cream samples, and some other makeup samples. Ultimately, I ended up regifting the mascara and even though I enjoyed the face exfoliator and BB cream, I didn’t go out to buy their full versions afterward. Since I don’t often shop around for department store beauty products, a sampling service probably wasn’t the best fit for me. 

Ipsy

  • $10/month
  • Makeup, skincare, hair care
  • Most products come full-sized, but a few come in trial sizes
  • Unique makeup bag included each month
  • Big brands  like Urban Decay, Benetint mixed with smaller brands
  • Personality quiz (less so) and product reviews (more so) help customize your future bags
  • Shopping: Ipsy links you to the website where you can buy each product, usually with a coupon code.

My Experience with Ipsy

I’ve continued subscribing because their products come in larger sizes, and I like the cute makeup bags. I’ve gotten full-sized eyeshadows and blushes as well as trial-sized UD eyeliners, but the dud happens occasionally as well, such as the weird tanning oil I received in July even though it didn’t reflect my personality quiz or product reviews. Each package comes with 4 to 5 products.