The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

A Non-Toxic Manicure and Thrift Shopping July 23, 2010

Ugh, so sorry I’ve been MIA for the past week. But I’m back, and this will be the first of several backlogged posts.

Saturday was catch-up-on errands day. You see, I had to finally get rid of some old clothes. I cleaned out my closet months ago with the help of a stylist, and even after one trip, there was still an impressive pile on the floor of cast-offs. I poured it all in a couple of reusable bags to take with me.

The whole city was hot, muggy, and inhospitable. My air conditioner labored to keep my room comfortable, and we had all the lights switched off so we didn’t blow a fuse in our old apartment. As I got my stuff together to run out the door, I decided at the last minute to switch bags. “It’s too hot to carry a leather purse,” I complained to Vicki. The idea of having black leather touching my skin, even if it was a thin strap, was gross. I poured everything in a cotton shopping tote, picked up my stuff, and took off for Brooklyn.

I was drenched in sweat by the time I made it to the cool air conditioning of the subway, and drenched again when I emerged into the hot sun and walked two blocks to my destination: Beacon’s Closet. I gratefully pushed open the glass door to the air conditioning.

Beacon’s closet is great, because it’s such an easy process to consign your clothes.

1. Dump your bags full of clothing and accessories with the girls in the back.

2. Either leave and go home, or go shopping on 5th Ave for an hour while they go through your stuff.

3. Pick up your voucher for store credit or cash.

If you decide to just go home, they’ll donate everything they don’t take to charity and you can come back another day for the voucher. If you decide to come back, you can take back all the clothes they don’t want. So easy!

So I left my unwanted stuff with a hipster girl with a brassy blond pixie cut and went to get my nails done. I found a place only a block away and popped in.

Now, a word about getting your nails done: It is not good for you. I mean, it’s great if you want to stop biting your nails (that may or may not be a problem for me) but in reality, a nail salon is a viciously toxic place, with toxins that have been linked to birth deformities, cancer, and liver damage. About this time last year, I made the trek down to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to get my nails done at a green salon, but lets be honest – it’s just too much to ask me to be on the train for an extra hour for a manicure. (There are other salons who use organic nail polish, but none of them are anywhere near the Upper West Side or even Mid-town.) So I came up with a solution: bring my own stuff!

Priti is a great line of nail polishes and nail polish that…well, I’ll let them explain:

Priti Polishes have been formulated without Toluene, DBP and Formaldehyde, all known carcinogens and does not contain any petroleum ingredients. They are fast drying, chip resistant, and super glossy.

As much as I like O.P.I. and Essie nail polish, I like my health more, and these Priti polishes really do the trick. Oh, and you can find them on Amazon, among other places. I had come prepared with pink nail polish, a top coat, and nail polish remover in my bag, and as I slid into a seat at the table, I took them out and put them on the table. “Can I use my own?” I asked the nail technician. She nodded as she took out her various sterilized tools. Then she took a cotton swap and began to soak it with blue liquid. I slid my nail polish remover forward and indicated it. She paused, quizzically, and with an expression of curiosity unscrewed it and soaked a new cotton swab, then set to work.

While she was  pushing up my cuticles and soaking my fingertips, I was able to study the ingredient list on the “fancy” lotions displayed next to me, so when she reached for a bottle I was prepared to turn down the offer of a hand massage. I can’t say for sure there were toxins in there, but if I need a chemistry teacher to identify it, then I don’t use it. It’s a rule that has served me well.

I could just imagine what the technician was saying to her neighbor as she giggled in Korean. “What is this silly white girl doing? Man, do we get some crazy hippies in Brooklyn.” No matter, the woman getting a pedicure next to me and I had a great discussion of the merits of bringing our own polish, and, God help me, Birkenstocks.

When she was done applying the last layer of polish, she picked up my stuff and settled me in the cancer causing UV nail dryer. When she walked away I subtly turned off the light switch and settled for a blow dry.

All prettied up, I stopped by a smoothie shop. I quizzed the girl behind the counter to establish that no extra sugar is added or syrup, and then ordered a pina colada.

It came in a styrene cup.

ARG! I just can’t win! It was too hot to get mad though, so I stopped outside the door to pet a cute pooch and headed back to Beacon’s Closet. I still had time to kill when I got back in, so against my better judgment I started to peruse.

I actually didn’t think I would find anything. Beacon’s has weird criteria for what clothing they pick. They usually turn down 75% of what I bring them, but they do keep some fairly ugtastic items. I guess I’m just not hipster enough to understand what is “fashionable”.

Despite this, I found several cute items:

One very fashionable (a la Refinery 29) Dooney & Burke long-handled leather purse in perfect condition, $25

One gorgeous maxi dress in bright tropical colors with neckline embelishments, $19

One adorable vintage bow tie for Mike to wear to the Jazz Age Festival on Sunday (post coming!), $9

Even minus the clothing I ended up buying, I netted $14. New clothes, AND money. I should clean out my closet more often!


Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie ECO Bikini July 6, 2010

Filed under: Green fashion,sustainability — Alden @ 7:15 pm

Every green girl knows that not-shopping is the most eco-friendly action of all. So luckily this year I find myself with plenty of old stand-byes to get me through the hot summer (102 degrees today in NYC!). But if you aren’t so lucky and the butt on your bikini is pilling from too many waterslides, check out these eco-friendly swimsuits from Huffpo. I like the polka dot one the best, but HuffPo readers gravitated to the surfer chic bikini.

(Thanks Jonathan!)


Get These Sunglasses! July 1, 2010

Needing a new pair of sunglasses, I decided I wanted to splurge on some high quality frames that are – what else – sustainably made. I thought I remembered seeing some cool bamboo frames, so I searched around on the internet, a search which yielded me these:

Kayu Sunglasses in Gaya style

Adorable, right? Here’s their creds (from creator Jamie Lim):

With each collection, I strive to keep our core principles of craftsmanship, ecology, and ethics in mind. All our products are handmade and feature natural materials. In addition, we remain committed to bettering the community by sponsoring one sight-restoring surgery for every pair of glasses sold…

Other creds?

  • Natural, renewable, sustainably sourced materials
  • Handcrafted by indigenous artisans in China, the Philippines, and Cebu (wherever that is…)

Can’t argue with that! I got myself a pair, and have been sporting them around the city and to the beach with pride.

wearing Kayu sunglasses More importantly, everyone LOVES these sunglasses. I get a compliment every time I wear them. Every. Single. Time. Last night I slipped them on to go up to the roof at work for drinks, and the creatives were absolutely obsessed. One Williamsburgian ended up outdoing me with his over-sized vintage frames, but he still seemed disappointed that Kayu only makes sunglasses for women. When your sunglasses help you network, you know they’re good.

They have a bunch of other styles, and (I just found this out and I’m so pumped!) they have adorable clutches too in materials like straw with turquoise snaps, shell, and mother of pearl. Kayu has a Toms-like thing going, donating a backpack and school supplies to kids in developing nations for every clutch sold.

They retail for about $180, which is a little steep, yes. But if I can just manage to hold on to this for more than a summer, I’ll consider it a great investment. Much better than the $5 plastic things I got off a street vendor last year….

[Update: In response to my post, Kayu has posted a pic on their website of a very suave-looking guy wearing their glasses… not bad!]


EcoSalon Shops! (And so Does Alden) June 8, 2010

Friday night my friend Agatha and I went straight from work the the EcoSalon Shops! event downtown. Things got off to a rough start, when a sign on the front door of the address directed us around back to a grimy alley covered in graffiti. (And not the artsy kind.) Agatha and I looked at each other, the dark alleyway, and each other again, wondering what to do.

Luckily another girl was waiting, and she assured us it was the right entrance to Green Spaces, an eco-friendly Coworking space where the event was being held. The heavy metal doors creaked open and we boarded a freight elevator that rumbled slowly up and up. “I bet this place has asbestos,” Agatha mumbled.

“What are you talking about??” the operator of the elevator exploded. “You are here to go to an event, not make unfounded assumptions about whether or not there is asbestos. Every building in New York City is required to be asbestos free….” he went on and on, while Agatha stood mute. Finally we reached the top and he pushed open the doors, still fussing at us. We escaped with relief into a long room packed with racks of clothing, boxes of shoes, tables laid with jewelry and accessories, and fashionable ladies milling about, drinks in hand. I grabbed a glass of wine and went to work perusing the offerings.

Lara Miller

Agatha and I were especially taken by Lara Miller’s hand-loomed pieces, which could be switched around to be almost anything you wanted. Lara modeled this… well, I don’t know what to call it exactly but it’s pretty darn cool. For myself I picked up a simple cream t-shirt with a draped front.

Agatha got into a deep conversation with Lara, so I wandered over to look at….


T-Luxe features beautiful underthings made of organic silk, cotton, and soy fabric. I had read up on the line beforehand, and was already excited to check it out. Tiffany Phipps, the designer, was nice enough to chat with me a bit while I perused her offerings.

“So how does this look under a t-shirt?”

“Not good,” she admitted, “it’s really just loungewear. All that ruching…”

Well, I can dig that. Sometimes a girl just needs to feel pretty, and I can’t think of anything more adorable in which I can beat the summer heat while I “lounge” in my sauna of an apartment. I snagged the panties, the matching bralet, and a camisole as for $95, which is a steal for such high quality stuff! I hope you’re ready for some half nakedness in the apartment, Vicki.

Feisty Elle

We loved the simple and high-quality nature of these laser-cut felt earring from Feisty Elle. While I didn’t get a pair for myself (I have too many earrings that I don’t wear) I could easily see integrating the bright colors into an everyday wardrobe. Leslie Young, the Californian designer, was a sweetheart too! Check out the website, because my pictures just don’t do them justice.


How lovely are all of these pretty baubles from Sara Brancato of Miasunta? All of her materials are either vintage, or sourced from the leftovers in manufacturing processes: extra chains, leftover metals, and vintage keys complete the look of eco-friendly charms.

Fair Vodka

Ever heard of vodka distilled from quinoa? Neither had we, but it is exceptionally smooth. I can say that with confidence because I drank it straight, having come too late for the chocolate martinis that everyone was raving about. You better believe that next time I’m in the market for vodka, I’ll be picking up some of this Fair Trade certified hooch. Luckily enough for me, it’s sold in nine New York City locations including 94th street, only two subway stops from my apartment. You can find a comprehensive list of purveyors here.

Divine Chocolate

Next to the vodka was Divine Chocolate, another component in the chocolate martinis. If you are in Whole Foods and jonesing for some chocolate, you have GOT to pick up a bar. It’s co-owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana, and – most importantly – it’s outrageously delicious. I mean… yeah. It’s amazing.

A Perfume Organic

Lately I’ve been hearing rumblings on how conventional perfume contains harsh chemicals. I’m loathe to give up my Dior perfume, but this stuff made a serious case for the switch. The woman working the A Perfume Organic table encouraged me to rub my fingers on the plants to pick up on the scented oils, then test the corresponding perfume. Each perfume contained several notes anchored by mint or other natural base notes. Who wouldn’t want to smell like a summer garden?

Study NY

I picked up this matching bolero and skirt set from Study NY, which I plan to wear to work sometime soon. Keep a look out!

Rebekah Froberg

Agatha said she was “obsessed” with the pretty gemstones in Rebekah Froberg‘s collection, which are handmade from recycled metals and stones like diamonds, tourmaline, sapphires and topaz.


Agatha loved the beaded detailing and tiers of eco-friendly fabric in this shirt sold at MissionSavvy, and store that donates 5% of profits generated to “a select group of animal welfare and conservation groups.” While we decided the shape of the tank favors those who are a little less endowed in the upper region (it’s hard being us, for sure) you should check out their website, as it seems to have some of the most pretty and practical sustainable pieces I’ve seen in a while.

There were a lot more booths there, that I just can’t cover them all. Here’s a list of designers, stores and products I didn’t particularly care for, but may suit your style:

H. Fredriksso

Feral Childe


Doucette Duvall

Cri de Coeur

Buddha Nose



Zhena’s Gypsy Tea

Juno & Jove

Most of the designers I talked to said their stuff can be found at  Kaight, the eco-friendly and sustainable boutique on the Lower East Side. If not there, you can check out their websites for a list of stockists, and some of them even sell direct on their website.


Eco-friendly Fashion for the Fashion-est of Us May 8, 2010

Filed under: Green fashion,New York — Alden @ 1:56 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Refinery 29 is one of my guilty pleasures. It’s a New York-based blog that follows the cutting edge in fashion trends. Basically, it’s the kind of place that encourages you to go out and buy a bunch of weird stuff that – even if it doesn’t earn you some puzzled looks from your more conservative friends – will be out again in one year. (I learned that the hard way.) Still, I can’t bear to unsubscribe to their thrice-daily emails, and on Earth Day I was rewarded with a great guide to eco-friendly fashion.

It’s got three pages packed with beautiful designers and websites where you can get your fashion fix without doing too much damage to the planet. I absolutely love the white draped/gathered dress above!


Two shopping trips a year? Impressive. April 26, 2010

Filed under: green angst,Green fashion — Alden @ 10:54 pm

The lovely lady over at The Zero Waste home describes her amazing efforts to keep her closet minimal. She puts my pithy little closet clean out to shame! She shops only twice a year, owns only 6 pairs of shoes… it really is inspiring. Let’s be clear, it does take a little bit of work. She goes to the library beforehand to look at fashion magazines and get a sense of what she wants, and also keeps an excel sheet of everything she’s worn out and needs to replace in the past 6 months.

Would you ever be able to do this?


Wardrobe Revamp!! April 25, 2010

This is a nice follow-up to my last post about only buying what you love and need. I’m pretty good about culling my closet, but last weekend when I pulled my big suitcase out of the closet and another plastic bin out from under my bed, and began taking out summer clothes, I was a little overwhelmed.

I pulled out skirt after skirt, and dress after dress. There were summer shorts and a capris as well. But mostly just skirts and dresses. I started to count the number hanging in my closet, and stopped at 23. That doesn’t even include the cotton dresses waiting to be ironed that I had thrown in the corner.

It’s an interesting but true fact that the more choices you have, the less happy you are. [TED Video] Well, I certainly wasn’t happy. Even with all that wealth, I was completely demoralized. Do brightly-colored cotton dresses even work in New York City? The huge collection I had amassed at my four years at Washington and Lee suddenly seemed awkward and useless. I wore a pink, plaid, silk dupione skirt to work one day, and felt so conspicuous and dumb, that I vowed not to wear it again. In short, I was completely lost within my own wardrobe.

On top of that, I met up with a friend for a night out on the town with her friend who does PR for Pucci. She told me to dress “fierce.” “Ok, I can do that,” I thought. I pulled on what I thought was a hot outfit, but when I got to her downtown apartment, she gently asked me if maybe I should ditch the skirt and just go with leggings. I was sufficiently chastened to realize that I needed help. Maybe even professional help.

So I decided to get a wardrobe consultant. That’s right, I hired someone to come in and help me weed out the duds from the divine. “Why pay someone to do that?” You might ask. Well, I had run out of ideas, and I needed an objective, New York eye to look through my things and do what I wasn’t brave enough to do: declare some stuff ugly.

I found my girl on Craigslist, believe it or not. Her name is Stella Lee, and she has an impressive resume – Vogue and InStyle are both magazines for which she has styled shoots. After exchanging some emails, I decided that she sounded like she knew what she was doing, so we settled on Saturday morning at 11.

By 10:15 on Saturday I was in a panic. The idea of someone so fashionable and discerning walking into my apartment was frightening. I took a fresh look at the apartment and didn’t like what I saw. The doorknob is broken, the linoleum kitchen floor is in dire need of replacement, and there is cat hair everywhere. And even after I took out the recycling and trash, I was convinced there was a funk when you first walked in the door.

Vicki emerged from her room where she had been hiding from the frenzy of cleaning and laundry activity all morning. “Are you ok?” she asked. “No!” I wailed. “I didn’t have time to mop or vacuum. She’s totally going to judge me! I bet her other clients have so much nicer apartments.”

“That is not your fault,” Vicki chided. “And there is NO smell.”

“There is, I have to find the reason why!” Vicki shook her head and went back to her room while I folded t-shirts. Luckily for me, Stella was late, so I had an extra 20 minutes to get myself ready. Which wasn’t enough, but whatever.

When Stella walked in, I knew I had chosen a winner. She looked like she was straight out of a Refinery 29 post. I would have taken a picture, but I was way to intimidated, so you’ll just have to trust me. She had on a loose black top, a grey wool capelet, cut off boyfriend shorts, black tights, and nice black boots. This is a look I had been trying to emulate for some months, with varying success. Of course, it helped that she’s a good five inches taller than me, with that slim build that Asians seem to always have.

She placed her leather purse on my vanity, threw her capelet over my chair, and went to work. She pulled each item out of my closet with a deliberate air, contemplating it. If an item was deemed acceptable, she would take it off the hanger and rehang it, so that everything was facing the same way. “Anna had a thing about that,” she said. “So I always do it.” Anna meaning Anna Wintour at Vogue.

If she didn’t like something, she would say “Is there a story behind this?” She seemed to understand how you can get attached to a piece of clothing even if it is ugly. Sometimes there was. Often I would say, “I got that in Paris,” or “It was a gift from a friend,” or even more often, “It’s a vintage piece.”

She wasn’t a huge fan of vintage pieces, that’s for sure. Stella is no hipster. She frowned at my mom’s sparkly 80’s dress, and cringed when I told her I wore it to a Christmas cocktail party. She gently encouraged me to store the colorful silk scarves, purses, and dresses from Annie Creamcheese’s in Georgetown that I was so in love with. “They are too old for you,” she said.

Mostly, my clothing was just too Southern. Soon I had a huge pile on my bed of j-crew skirts, linen Sperry flats, and Susan Monaco dresses. (The Lilly Pulitzer stuff is long gone, at least.) “You can store it, or take it down to Maryland,” she said. “Just get it out of your closet here, it’s not doing you any good.”

Sometimes she would ask to see stuff on me. She shook her head at the voluminous skirts and pleated pants – they weren’t right for my curvy figure. And she made a pile of clothing that needed to be tailored – long pants, skirts that fall below the knee, and a sequined top whose lining is falling out.

She went through my shoes, grimacing at the worn out heels and cutesy flats. “I knew I would find a pair of these,” she said when she pulled out my Tory Burch flats. “Non-negotiable,” I spat. I actually said those words several times. “Non-negotiable” to the white Susan Monaco dress. “Non-negotiable” to the demure vintage navy blue dress straight that looks like something Jackie Kennedy would have worn. “Non-negotiable” to the rainbow scarf I bought in Chile, my only purchase while I was there. She would only nod at these points, hang the offending item up neatly, and place it back in the closet. She knew to choose her battles.

It took three hours to go through both closets, the shoes, scarfs, t-shirts, jeans, and tanks. The whole affair ended with seven bags of reject clothing, a nice neat closet of good stuff, and a rather bruised ego. Yup, the whole process was exhausting. Think about it: I basically just invited someone in to judge my taste in clothing, and the results weren’t always pretty. Some stuff which I absolutely adored was unceremoniously tossed into the get-rid-of pile. There were points, where I could tell she was struggling not to say, “For heaven sakes, I don’t care if you got it at a vintage shop in Paris for a steal! It’s hideous!” as I clung to some item with the ferocity of a mother protecting her child from a pedophile.  By the time she left, I felt both cleansed and battered. I needed time to assimilate what had just happened to my closet, to ruminate on my style and wonder about all the times when I thought I looked adorable or funky, and just looked stupid. I felt grateful I had decided to to this, but also listless.

The price for all of this? $450.

Woah! You might say. Why the hell would you pay $450 to someone so they could tell you what stuff to get rid of? Actually, I think it was money well-spent, despite the pain of letting go.

Most women wear only 20% of their closet. That’s thousands of dollars in clothing that never gets worn and languishes. In my case, I’ve been determined to wear everything, so I carefully cycled through each piece. Everytime I wore something, I hung it in the back of my closet. So all the stuff I don’t wear floated to the front, staring me in the face, challenging me. “Make it work,” the salmon, Forever 21 top with a low back whispered. And what I ended up doing was wearing some questionable things to work and out on the weekends. I probably looked like a schizophrenic to my coworkers, wearing a different, probably inappropriate, piece every day. I needed someone to finally tell me that the artsy yellow dress was a bad buy, like I suspected. I needed someone to inform me that I am no longer in Virginia and it’s time to move on from flowers and madras. I needed someone to tell me that my vintage pieces were making me look older, instead of the fresh twenty-something I am.

She also told me what to look for next time I go shopping: simple jeans with large back pockets sans embellishments, and some more knitwear. “Other than that,” she said, “you’re pretty much set. You have all the shoes you need for a really long time,” she added. That much is true, and it was good to hear that I didn’t need to go out and spend a bunch more money.

In fact, I discovered things I didn’t realize I had. She gave me the courage to finally use the beautiful Dolce and Gabanna purse I bought in the South of France and have always been to scared to use. She paired an old vest with a white blouse, giving them both new life. Less is more, right? Well, even with less stuff, I have so much more.

Every time I go shopping from now on, I will think back to those three hours and say, “Will this end up on the chopping block in a year, six months? Is this a classic? Does it look good on me?” She gave me some valuable tools. And it was really nice getting dressed today and knowing that whatever I choose, it will be a good choice for me and for my life in New York.