Getting through your first major work event

I’ve attended formal events for work before, but these major functions have different demands per industry. Events hosted by my previous company, which was in the consumer goods industry, dealt more with product launches and mall activations. Formal events were mostly reserved for corporate parties. Since moving to my position as Editor of, the digital home of MEG magazine, I’ve observed that the events I attend are of a different scale and nature; there are campaign releases, press conferences, photo shoots, interviews, and, as I learned recently, there are BALLS.

Left: my daily work uniform. Right: fish out of water at the Colours Gala.

Events of all kinds are now part and parcel of my job, so why I usually feel more than a little awkward at the grandest, most formal ones? Recently, I attended the Colours Gala honoring London-based designer Lesley Mobo; this was my first major straight-up dressy event. As much as I wanted to be that mysterious, swan-like creature that glided through the crowd, I’m afraid I was pretty much the opposite. I’m not usually this ungainly. I think it might be the combination of being out of my comfort zone (I traded in my blazer and glasses for a full-length gown) and being in the presence of designers I’ve long admired from afar. I lurked, not lingered, I stumbled, not sashayed, and tripped over a few things, including my own dress.

Talking to my friend and colleague Dazzle Ng later on, I mused that embarrassing moments that come with fish-out-of-water experiences like these aren’t at all unnatural. Feeling out of your element is a good thing. It means you’re navigating unchartered territory, possibly moving further along your career, and there is a lot of insight to be gleaned through quiet observation from the wallflowers’ side of the room (presumably near the wall).

If you aren’t feeling your best at a major event, like someone’s wedding or a friend’s party, take heart and remember that you’re probably not the only one feeling jittery. Try to fake your confidence so well that you end up believing it, too. Above all, don’t let your nerves or self-doubt keep you from attending these functions and missing out on what could be critical moments in your life. You have to start somewhere. Below are seven things I learned about attending these kinds of functions:

Have a fairy godmother (or be your own)

MAC’s Raf Mañosca created my beauty look for the evening.

When Cinderella’s evil step-family ruined her dress, her fairy godmother stepped in to loan the princess that iconic ball gown. With only hours to go before my own event, I had no dress and no hair or makeup appointment, but I did find fairy godpeople in Mr. Raf Mañosca of MAC cosmetics and Norlie of Basement Salon, who very kindly did my makeup and hair for the evening. You might want to ask a friend who’s handy with a makeup brush or flat iron to help with your beauty look. If all else fails, head to a salon for a quick and easy blowout; if you’re doing your own makeup, stick to a more dramatic version of your basic look by incorporating a bold lip or eye color.

Look for a dress you can rinse, wear, repeat

If you’re on a very limited budget, your go-to dress for formal events shouldn’t be a poufy ball gown that will make it evident that you’re wearing the same thing over and over. It should be a basic, modern piece with clean lines in a solid color, and it should fit you perfectly. My dress’ rich shade of navy could absorb both warm golds and cooler silvers, making it the perfect versatile piece to last me for years. I won’t be buying a new gown any time soon.

…but don’t overspend in the name of the occasion.

It’s tempting to justify dropping ten grand on a gown because the event is so special, but remember that you’ll be living in the real world the day after. You don’t want thoughts of your looming credit card bill to mar your otherwise lovely evening. My asymmetrical navy gown from Trois was going for Php1,699, a good price for a full-length gown; it’s proof that you don’t have to spend a fortune to acquire an event-appropriate dress. We can all dream of a designer gown that’s worth tens of thousands, but until that’s available to us, there are tons of options out there. It shouldn’t take you too long to find one–I found mine within thirty minutes at Rockwell.

Spanx yourself in

If you know there are going to be photographers everywhere armed with deadly, heavy-duty cameras, prepare accordingly. If your dress is fitted, invest in one (or two, or more) pieces of shapewear like Spanx to smooth over any bulges and highlight your curves. Make sure they don’t fit so tightly that you can’t breathe! If your dress is a light color, go for nude undergarments, and buy seamless all the way so there won’t be photographic evidence of any wardrobe malfunctions.

Find a friend in the crowd

Even if you look fabulous, you’ll only perform as excellently as you’re feeling, and I know there are few things more intimidating than having to navigate a room filled with people you don’t know.

Thankfully, I spotted college buddy Aren in the crowd.

I arrived very early, so I was by myself for quite a while, but I think that was a good learning experience that pushed me to socialize. Luckily, I spotted a college friend, Aren Pe, in the crowd, which immediately improved the potentially awkward situation.

Speak up and introduce yourself

What if you really, really don’t see anybody you know? At times like these, you have to hang in there, fight through your nerves, and maybe even spot an opportunity to talk to someone new. I know I became really star-struck when I came face to face with Mr. Jojie Lloren, whose work I’ve admired for years. I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him, and he could not have been more gracious and witty! Push past the awkwardness and dive in.

A peek at the Lesley Mobo Spring-Summer 2013 collection

No prince necessary, but you’ll need your friends

Cinderella had her prince, but no one could help me at this event better than the One Mega Group team (Meryll Yan, Suki Salvador, L.A. Ferriols, Cat Triviño, Rain Dagala and Patrick Galang); their presence did a lot to calm me down at my first major formal work function. I remember thinking to myself, you’re at a ball. In a full-length dress. Watching Lesley Mobo show his latest collection. I think I pinched myself a couple of times, hardly able to believe my luck. Despite the mad scramble for a dress, my unfortunate stumble, and way-too-early arrival, I’d made it here anyway. I was witnessing the unveiling of a collection that was so viscerally compelling that it would later provoke reflection on the reason I fell in love with fashion in the first place. If that’s all I had to get through to be here, I know I’d do it all over again.

All photographs are by Rinse, Wear, Repeat

Update: This piece was republished on on November 6, 2012.

Some Notes on Job Interviews

Since returning from my European sojourn, I’ve also concluded a series of job interviews, including one conducted over the phone. While job-hunting is intense, everyone goes through it at some point and with each one, I learn that much more about communicating with potential employers. While I’m still building my knowledge base, I thought I’d share just three things I’ve picked up based on my recent experiences.

To look and feel your best, go for tried and tested favorites. Here are some of mine (L-R): gray sheath dress with flattering diagonal stripes, green three-quarters length cotton sweater and comfortable chocolate suede skirt, soft wide-leg trousers and peach nautical blouse.

1. Outfits. When I attend interviews, I always proudly repeat outfits that are tried and tested; I rarely go for brand-new articles of clothing that take time to break in, like new shoes or scratchy new pants. When you’re under pressure to deliver a great interview, the last thing you want to be thinking of is how uncomfortable you are. In the photo above, I share some of my repeat outfits this week, featuring some of my favorite pieces. Cotton 3/4-length shirts, soft wide-leg trousers, my sturdy ivory blazer-all of these have proven to work for me. Depending on the dress code of your potential new workplace, you might choose to add one interesting, eye-catching accessory. Try a good-luck charm with a backstory, like a brooch, or take it up a notch with a medium-sized pendant that pulls your outfit together.

You can choose to use technology to your advantage by keeping helpful pictures or brief (less than 30 seconds!) video clips on hand to show your interviewer. Make sure the content is general knowledge and not classified company information from your previous employer.

2. Use technology. In my previous job, I had some spare video clips and photos capturing some projects that I worked on. It was’t too hard to put them together into a quick and very visual slideshow and load them into my iPhone. If your interviewer is so inclined (gauge this by their non-verbal reactions to your answers), you might decide to show it to them. It’s a great way to give life to your interview. Just make sure the videos/photos run for less than 30 seconds, and that they don’t dominate the meeting. Rather, use them to emphasize your successes and the richness of your experience. Make sure you only show images or share information that’s available to the public; remember that very specific figures and some images may be property of your previous company and should not be shared.

3. Nerves. If you are like me and are susceptible to nerves before a big presentation or interview, it really helps to be aware of signs of anxiety and take conscious steps to fight them. My yoga teachers love to tell me to breathe through hard moments, taking the time to fill your lungs completely before exhaling. When you’re nervous or charged, do you feel your throat closing up or your voice becoming high-pitched? Drink some water and mindfully modulate your tone. When you face someone with strong presence, do you feel your posture drooping? Square your shoulders and make steady eye contact (career websites tell you to look at the forehead if eye contact is difficult for you). Finally, when asked a challenging question, take a couple of seconds to really think it over. I’ve learned that pausing for even just a moment helps me collect my thoughts and express myself better, rather than jumping in with an answer just to keep the perceived momentum going. When all else fails, I find that being earnest and sincere can improve an interview immensely.

Wardrobe for Travel: Your Right to Non-negotiables

This is the fourth part in my travel series for proud outfit repeaters on vacation.

In my previous entry, I talked about how to avoid overpacking by leaving unnecessary things at home where they belong; you’re not likely to miss them. This time, I also want to stress the importance of bringing your non-negotiables. There may be one or two things on this list that are less than practical, but I think that’s perfectly okay. It’s a vacation, and we all deserve to bring/wear anything that will make us feel our best. It’s also a great way to combat the inevitable fatigue that comes with all the walking, sightseeing and shopping.

Just for fun, here is my very short list of non-negotiables:

  1. 2-in-1 flat iron and curler. I don’t necessarily straighten/curl every single day (hair usually benefits from a break every few days), but I often use the straightener to touch up messy areas. This way I retain hair’s natural volume, but lightly get rid of frizz.
  2. Full toiletry set, including make-up and skincare. TIP: I like getting random small containers around the house and using them as travel-sized make-up jars to store liquid foundation and primer. For readers from the U.S., the small sample jars offered for free at department stores like Nordstrom make great little containers to bring along. No need to lug around giant glass jars of make-up.
  3. A small arsenal of accessories. This foldable one (pictured below) worth around Php200 (USD 4.65) has small plastic pouches that can store rings, as well as mesh pockets great for flat accessories, and metal rings to keep necklaces and bracelets untangled. TIP: bring jewelry you like, but won’t cry over if it gets lost. Leave all precious items at home; expect to lose a couple of things of varying value on a trip.

    My arsenal of accessories hanging from the window of our hotel room in Madrid, Spain.

  4. Dresses. I’m a dress girl, and as much as I appreciate the versatility of separates, I will choose to pack a dress any day. TIP#1: On vacation, I prefer long-sleeved dresses that end just above or right on the knee.

    Viewing castles in Lisbon and Segovia. Both days were very windy, so I was glad for extra protection from these dresses with longer sleeves. The longer length also wards off wardrobe malfunctions while climbing steep castle steps.

    TIP#2: I also like dresses that will work with or without layers, depending on the weather. Here I am at Fatima, Portugal, which is actually a holy destination as this is where the Virgin appeared to three children. To dress appropriately while viewing the area and attending the Mass, I paired this navy sundress with tights, flats and my beat-up blazer. While sunny, it was also very windy so I was glad to be more covered up. I wore the same dress on its own, with no layers, on a hot day in Madrid, Spain.

    Left: A sunny but very windy day in Fatima, Portugal. Right: Downright HOT in Madrid, Spain.

Packing Tips for Vacation Leave: Repeatable Separates

This is the third part of my travel series, written while on a two-week exploration of Portugal and Spain.  

One thing I do without fail every time I travel is overpack. It’s just the way I’m made; how do I know I won’t need a full arsenal of accessories or ten different pairs of pants while I’m separated from my wardrobe for two weeks? Over the last few years, however, I’ve learned firsthand the travails and consequences of overpacking, especially since you will never have space to pack anything you shop for while abroad. Below I share some simple style ideas for vacation outfits using basic separates, and some tips to avoid overweight luggage and stuffed suitcases:

L-R. Plain white shirt, dotted jeans and low-heeled sandals in the Cromlech, near Evora. Polka dotted top, navy shorts and the same shoes in Evora, Portugal. The same white top, navy scalloped skirt, beat-up gray flats in Avila, Spain.

Clothes: bring separates that are easily repeatable. No one will ever know if you wear the same thing again. A white shirt tucked into a flowing skirt has a completely different effect from wearing the same white shirt tucked into jeans, worn with a blazer. Best of all, you can wear them separately when it’s warm, and layer them on when it gets cold. Some notes on separates:

  1. Choose tops and bottoms that are less likely to wrinkle. For bottoms: lightweight denim, leggings, and tights are great, but avoid satins, silk/silk finish and structured fabrics, as they crease most easily. For tops, choose basic cotton tops with a stretchy blend.  For this trip, I made the most out of my white v-neck, which has made so many appearances on this blog that it’s practically a cornerstone. Also present were my trusty navy shorts, blue skirt, and soft blue jeans.
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat your tops OR bottoms, but not necessarily both. I don’t really like to think about my tops, so I pretty much rely on my basic black and white v-necks. I do, however, love bottoms, so I brought this assortment with me: 1 lightweight skirt, 1 pair of shorts, 2 pairs of pants, and 2 pairs of tights. This already makes for a lot of combinations.
  3. Do emergency laundry by throwing 3-4 items in the sink and submerging it in a simple bath gel solution (or detergent, if you can find it). Rinse, Wear, Repeat! We were lucky enough to stay in an apartment that had a washer/dryer, so I was able to do laundry. If you can’t, tip #3 is a great way to get clean clothes in a jiff. Just make sure those clothes weren’t too dirty to begin with.

A Quick Aside on Shoes. Bring only two pairs: one matching warm colors (brown, gold, beige or camel), and one matching cool colors (black, silver, navy or gray). If you wear a lot of warm colors, then just bring 1-2 pairs of brown shoes. I think I’ve learned that if you don’t have too many choices, you’re forced to be more decisive when it’s time to pick outfits in the morning.  

Cold Weather Wear for Warm Weather Folks: Porto, Portugal

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, but when we visited it seemed like a sleepy little town. Its location along the Douro river made for some beautiful views, and a few boats can always be spotted going idly by. The cheerful buildings lining the side of the river were a perfect backdrop for some great photos.

It was also freezing. For someone from a tropical country, 15 degrees (with wind) is pretty unbearable–especially if you don’t actually own too many winter coats. So, here are some cold weather tips for warm weather folks. I also wanted to share some photos of the city, parts of which were collectively named a UNESCO World Heritage Site a while back.

  1. If you don’t own too many winter clothes, layering will be key. Bring a lot of basics and wear one over the other. Wear a long-sleeved shirt under a dress over tights to recycle your hot-weather clothes.
  2. Don’t be afraid to wear winter coats even when everyone around you is wearing spring attire, like lightweight jackets or coats. The locals were definitely used to it (a lot of people were eating ice cream), but I shamelessly broke out my furry hat and scarf.
  3. Invest in a pair of thermal undergarments. They’re amazingly thin and light but provide a lot of warmth.
  4. Tights save the day again. Wear a pair under your pants for insulation.
  5. Use your winter coat as extra protection against thieves. As you can see in the photos, I’m wearing a cross-body bag facing inwards, and under the coat. That way no one can grab it from the back or flip open the top from outside.

Wardrobe Tips for Long Haul Flights: Hello from Porto, Portugal!

I’m currently in Porto, Portugal, the first stop in a two-week Europe trip. This is the first of my series on maintaining practical but stylish day-to-day attire while abroad.

It’s very easy to live in sweats, yoga pants and jeans during a trip, because flying for more than three hours can be very uncomfortable. Once you’re living out of a suitcase, you really don’t want it to be a heavy one. Up until I started this blog, I severely overpacked every single time, so I am actually just learning new ways to pack smart without severely depleting wardrobe choices, too.

To kick off the series, I’m sharing what I consider to be a solid “Long Haul Flight”  outfit. Here are some tips I’ve picked up while choosing from my options:

1. Tights are the key to comfort. Perfect for the following:

  • Anyone who is looking for an alternative to sneakers. Sneakers take up too much space in my suitcase; I’d rather use the extra space to pack another pair of cute flats.
  • Anyone who doesn’t like to go barefoot when they make you take your shoes off at airport security.
  • Anyone who likes to move around under their blanket on the plane, and would like to do so without disgracing themselves to a horrified fellow passenger. Much less restrictive than pants, tights will allow you to move into any curled-up position you like. Just make sure you’re covered up by a blanket.
  • Paired under a swingy skirt, tights give you coverage while allowing a greater range of motion. See bullet #3.
  • Thicker tights keep legs warm.  When it gets too hot (for example, if your destination is Cancun), simply remove, tuck into a barf bag, slip into your purse and you’re good to go!

2. Try to pass on accessories. Instead, go for color or interesting patterns to punch up the look. This is to get you through airport security without holding up a line of tired passengers and stern security officers.

3. Go for slip-on flats with no buckles or straps.  See #2.

4. Go for a blazer. Sweaters are a cozy and very tempting alternative, but I think blazers can be just as warm. Plus, they add just an extra layer of polish to the overall look. My beat-up black blazer is such a wardrobe favorite that I think it’s as comfortable as any giant hoodie out there.

Hair and Make-up: 

1. Given the choice, straighten instead of curling hair. Straightened hair from a curling iron will last the entire flight, while airplane/airport conditions and general stress from traveling will probably make curls limp and separate. Straightened hair will also let you sleep on the plane with minimum bed head and frizz.

2. If you’re going to be on the plane for more than five hours, let your skin breathe and wear minimal make-up. Avoid anything that will run, like eyeliner or mascara. Concealer and blush from a stick are favorites.

3. The only thing that’s a must for me is lip balm, because conditions inside the aircraft tend to dry out skin. I usually apply medicated balm on lips and also on the sides of my nose to prevent unsightly flaking in these areas.

No Holds Barred: Great Finds from the Children’s and Teens Wear Department

In the quest to build a sensible, balanced wardrobe, it’s sometimes necessary to shop with no holds barred at the department store’s teens section. The children’s wear department is also a treasure trove of great finds you can use as you see fit. I’ve put together three looks revolving around some pieces purchased from the Little/Junior Miss section. Below, I also share four things I’ve learned since I started shopping here last year.

  • Expect to ask for the sizes on the larger end of the spectrum. As the clothes are made for slighter bodies that still have a ways to grow, adults shopping in this section should be prepared to look for sizes 14-18, or L/XL/XXL. The clothes you’ll wear from here will likely be for tweens and teens aged 12-16.
  • Things found here are likely to be more cost-effective, but fair warning: I’m not referring to big-name children’s wear brands that sell items priced on par with adult clothes. Instead, look for smaller labels or in-house brands that are often the first to be marked down during sale season. For example, a pair of shorts costing Php750 or 650 somewhere else, can run you 350-500 in children’s or teens wear.
  • Sometimes, some items may not cost that much less than a similar one in the women’s section, but are unique in terms of shape and style. I try to find other uses than how they were originally intended. Over a few months I’ve found loose dresses that can work as tank tops, jackets that can work as vests or cropped sweaters, and separates that are very wearable to work and weekend alike. Cute trends like peter pan collars and scalloped hems are often spotted here.
  • Take care to balance the pieces you buy here with more grown-up elements. I try to avoid going head-to-toe teens wear which can lead to saccharine overload. This may be cute for little girls, but no so much on a twenty-something. For instance, I like balancing a cute printed skirt with grown-up accessories like oversized watches and statement necklaces. Usually, I also go for heels.

I was delighted to find this dress in the children’s section of all places. I’m wearing size 18, the largest size, but the garterized waistband and a-line shape will be friendly to a lot of shoppers with a similar build. Because of the length of the skirt, which falls slightly above knees, Look 1 is wearable almost anywhere, even to work (just throw on a blazer or a cardigan). I chose to style with dainty pink accessories like these oyster-hued peacock earrings, pink headband, and pink studded cuffs to avoid the sweetness overkill I mentioned earlier. Neutral wedges finish the look.

The top in Look 2, a sleeveless blue number with a triple scalloped ivory hem, is also from children’s wear, and also a size 18. I use it only to wear tucked into skirts and pants, because on its own it is very short, with its hemline ending just past the navel. Here I styled it with a very grown-up pair of tailored navy pants (so worn that they are quite faded) and the same wedges as in Look 1. To ensure that I look my age, I also added a textured statement  bracelet featuring different shades of blue and ivory, which really anchor the outfit and give the eye something to focus on. I can also see this paired with an ivory blazer. Strong eyeliner and loose waves complete the look.

These shorts in Look 3 are from the teens section, size XL. I was immediately taken with the nautical design and styled it with a neutral gray shirt and some fun accessories, like my Stormtrooper bottlecap ring, tri-color bangle, and rose pendant. I also added just a touch of toughness via the black gladiator flats. This look is probably appropriate for anywhere you will be doing a lot of walking, as the shorts are very comfortable. I recently wore them on a flight as they don’t pinch when you are seated for a long time.

*All the items are still available now in the stores, but if you would like to know exactly where I bought them, please drop me a note at!

Tips and Tricks for Things: DIY Bracelet Holder in Less than a Minute

My cardinal rule for practical shopping is to make sure that you never buy something you already have. One of the best ways to do this is to keep mental inventory of clothes/accessories/shoes you already own. That way, you know exactly what you have at any given point in time. You will want to make sure that your things are 1. organized and 2. visible. If they’re organized but invisible you aren’t likely to remember them when you’re about to buy something remarkably similar at the store.

I’ve previously written about some tips to store make-up, necklaces, and small trinkets, but  bracelets in particular can be cumbersome because of their size. To store them safely, I simply grouped like-sized bracelets together and slipped them over old rolled-up magazines. The great thing is that the magazines are solid and stand on their own. They also mold directly to the shape of the bracelets so you don’t have to worry about them slipping off. You can use different magazines per color group for maximum order.

These cost nothing if you have old magazines lying around at home, and takes only a few seconds to roll up just so.

Wear Different Ways: Tuck Everlasting

One way to extend the longevity of individual pieces in your closet is to use them in ways other than they were originally intended to be worn. One of my favorite tactics is tucking in or out as needed.

Case #1. Layer a skirt under a tunic like a tutu. 

While I love this basic gray dress with a lightly ruffled neckline, I did think it could use some more definition on the bottom half. I thought this textured off-white skirt with silvery-gold veins sets off the ruffles nicely, so I experimented by wearing it under the dress like a tutu, making sure to let around 1-2 inches of the skirt’s hemline peek out. The a-line silhouette now gives the dress’ bottom half a more defined shape and emphasizes the waistline nicely.

Case #2. Tucking a tunic under a skirt, to make a preppy top.  Keep Reading

Tips and Tricks for Things: 2 Become 1 Part 2

Last week I wrote about turning the other half of a lost earring into a pendant. I thought this was a good idea to reapply to other lost odds and ends; I actually lost the other half to this earring four years ago when I was a freshman in college. Keep Reading