Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Retailers
2021: possibly the most confusing year to date. So we will take anything to feel the slightest semblance of normal. As we head into a New Year, editors and writers from the Cut and the Strategist shared some things under $100 they purchased this year that gave them joy or improved their lives.
If there is one thing the Cut’s deputy style editor Joanna Nikas learned from this year (and #cleantok), it’s to get joy out of simple meditative tasks, like washing dishes. “Every time I slip on these kitchen gloves, I imagine myself at the opera,” she said. “These hot-pink ones from Korea, which are recommended by the Strategist, are a great length so you don’t get the sleeves of your shirt wet. They also make any outfit look cool.”
The Cut’s beauty director Kathleen Hou “minors in coffee but majors in matcha,” and the Golde Superfood Latte Sampler is great on a WFH day. “Daily matcha-latte habits can become expensive, [and] not everyone makes a latte to my liking … These latte powders are perfect for a matcha-latte control freak like me,” she said. “They blend into water without residue, are dairy-free, and one spoonful makes a giant cup with lots of flavor and a hint of spice.”
“I’m just caring a little less about what people are gonna say if they see me and more about ‘Do I feel comfortable in this?’” said the Cut’s Chinea Rodriguez. The Crocs Classic Bae Platform Clog, which she decided was “ugly in a good way,” became her most-worn shoes this year. Strapped into “sport mode” (pivot straps down), you can run, you can jump, and there is no errand you can’t tackle. Hers are fashioned with spikes, which, with the towering platform, add a sense of flair to her errand days. “When you’re having fun now with your clothes, it’s definitely more for you. I’m still keeping comfort in mind; that’s the top priority now.”
Comfort was big across the board this year. The Cut’s associate fashion editor, Devine Blacksher, found how to keep her nails in tip-top shape without leaving the house. “While I love taking the time to go to the nail salon twice a month to get a gel mani, sometimes consistency is not possible and my nails suffer. They become fragile and break easily or my cuticles look rough and dry, even after lotion.” With this nail and cuticle oil, she immediately noticed a difference in her nail health.
A good pair of pajamas helped the Strategist’s Crystal Martin establish a bedtime ritual that improved her rest and became something she looked forward to every day. “It’s nice to have something special to wear during this extremely important time of day or part of life that I’ve kind of neglected. It tapped into a sort of natural joy that I’ve always had for clothing. It’s just for me and it encouraged me to do the care that I needed to do to prepare for sleep.”
Similarly, the practice of getting dressed, starting with an ARQ bra-and-undies set, helped Strategist’s Tembe Denton-Hurst separate her workday from her home life. “I don’t want to wear a traditional bra, like ever, death to the underwire for sure. Having a very comfy, relaxed bra that feels like nothing but is also supportive really helps me get into the mind-set of ‘you’re working.’ It’s really nice, and I can hang out in it all day, which is a big deal.” ARQ is a women-owned brand, made in small batches, which she is also happy to support. With a wide range of colors for matching or color-blocking and an affordable price tag, “It’s like Pokémon cards, just collect them all. You can’t have too many.”
Another item to collect like Pokémon cards are the thrifty Montbell Mono Pouches, of which the Cut’s senior fashion writer, Emilia Petrarca, has “one of every size and color.” The cross-body bags are lightweight, simple, and made out of a silicone-coated nylon ripstop fabric that is resistant to all trials of life. “They’re interesting because they come in all these fun colors and they’re a really cool shape, but they’re not too flashy or too gorpy. I’m a big color person and I really like to match my colors, so it’s a satisfying thing for me that I’m able to match my bag to my coat.”
A big lesson this year is that satisfaction and joy can come from the littlest things in life. For Andrew Nguyen, the Cut’s fashion writer, satisfaction came with removing all things lint, fur, and dander from his living-room rug with this fancy little rug brush. “TikTok made me buy it,” he said between laughs. “A rug brush was a recurring thing in all of these videos and I needed to buy it because my rug was just shedding so much. I’m actually really excited to do it after this. It’s one of those oddly satisfying things because you can really see the difference between the areas you clean and the places you haven’t.”
The Cut’s Asia Milia Ware found her solace in this portable Bluetooth speaker. “I thought I loved my AirPods until I got a portable speaker this year. It sounds crazy, but before this year I never had a portable speaker. It created my personal zone-out safe haven.” The speaker became her favorite thing to bring along everywhere from beachside hangouts with flamingos to quiet nights on her balcony. “It transforms me to a different place when I’m just in my room alone vibing, and it traveled with me on all my vacations this year.”
For a different kind of peace of mind, New York Magazine’s features editor, Joy Shan, recommended The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu. Set against China’s Cultural Revolution, the science-fiction trilogy is a rumination on technology, morality, and more, as Earth’s inhabitants divide into camps in support of and against an impending alien invasion. “It was one of the first books I could fully immerse myself in [during lockdown] … where when you finish it, you’re waiting in line at a grocery store, and you just start thinking about it.” With our lives steeped deeply in uncertainty lately, the book presents parallels to our lived realities as well as a unique kind of perspective: one that offers the opportunity to take a step back, to make a smaller scope of our day-to-day challenges. “There’s something so comforting about reading that during the pandemic,” said Shan. “It makes you think about how big the galaxy is. It’s also just such incredible world-building and feels like the best massage for your brain.”
With the last two years accented by disasters of all kinds (to put things lightly), the sexiest form of self-care in our times may be … safety. Editor-at-large at New York Magazine Choire Sicha made two purchases this year that beefed up his at-home disaster prep.
The first is the Zircon Leak Alert Electronic Water Detector.
It’s simple and straightforward: It sits on the floor and will scream “like a gremlin” when water touches it. This is essential for bathrooms or under the sink, to notify you right away when you have a water leak. In a year of torrential rain and floods, this gadget has saved Sicha a world of troubles already and may do the same for you.
One Thing Under $100 That Improved Our Lives This Year