Your Favorite Stores Are Getting In On the Subscription Box Trend—and We Put Them to the Test

One of the biggest fashion trends of late: subscription boxes. How we shop is less about a hemline or a specific color but rather whether you want to rent or buy.

Rent the Runway (with its “unlimited” monthly service) and Stitch Fix (itself a $3 billion business) are the Goliaths paving the way. Jennifer Hyman, cofounder of Rent the Runway, frequently points out how the American woman buys 68 items of clothing year, some of which she never ends up wearing. (According to the company, the subscription part of its business has grown 150 percent year over year since it launched in 2016.)

“Social media has created an atmosphere in which, yeah, you could wear the same thing twice, but you’d rather not,” says Rachel Saunders, strategy director of retail strategy firm Cassandra. “So how do you do that without spending a fortune? It’s all contributed to this idea that it’s OK to share clothes with strangers.”

Allied Market Research estimates the clothing rental market will reach $1.856 billion in global value by 2023, with more and more players in the game, like Le Tote and Gwynnie Bee. Naturally, individual brands—ones you’d normally shop at their stand-alone stores or at a mall—now want a piece of that pie, especially as brick-and-mortar shopping continues to decline.

Classic workwear purveyor Ann Taylor, fashion-forward brand Vince, and even trend-focused label Express have all launched subscription services over the last few months that allow shoppers to test a curated selection of pieces at home before either buying their favorites and sending back the rest (and then being replenished with different options). Many of these ventures are being managed by the same company: New York–based CaaStle, which seems to have a lock on the back-end management of fashion subscriptions, at least for now.

So are these services really worth it when weighed against buying clothes outright? How easy is the rental process, really? How good is the selection? And does this mean the end of shopping as we know it?

We compared five of the big brand options (all of which, coincidentally, are being managed by CaaStle) to see how they stack up, what’s worth it, and what’s not. These might be early adopters, but judging by where the industry is growing, it’s likely you’ll see even more of your favorites jump into this space over the course of 2019.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Vince

Known for its minimal but still fashion-forward pieces, Vince enters the subscription game with Vince Unfold. To get started you create a virtual closet with at least 10 items (though it’s recommended that you add more than 24), from which the brand creates your first box. Each shipment comes with four pieces. When you’re done with it, you send it back and get four new ones in a brand-new box.

The biggest difference between Vince Unfold and other brand-specific subscription boxes comes down to one thing: inventory. Vince is much more high-end than other single labels dipping their toes in this market, with most pieces featuring three-figure price tags—think silk tank dresses ($345), shaggy bear coats ($695), and oversize cashmere cardigans ($495).

Price: $160 a month. You can exchange your four-item box an unlimited number of times, but you must return your whole box to do so. If you want to keep a piece that you’re renting, you can purchase it at a discount, between 20 and 60 percent off.

Pros: Vince clothes are gorgeous and luxurious, which means that every single item that comes in your box can easily be mixed and matched with whatever’s in your wardrobe. Additionally, the selection of products is pretty vast. You’ll get tons of mileage out of these clothes.

Cons: The price point is high, especially when you weigh it against Rent the Runway’s unlimited offering (which has Vince on its roster). Also, you can’t return pieces individually, only as a whole box, and you don’t pick what you’re getting in each shipment.

TL; DR: While this subscription still makes sense from a cost-benefit standpoint if you’re a big fan of Vince, they could improve on the details. Try it here.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Ann Taylor.

Infinite Style by Ann Taylor lets you rent three pieces from Ann Taylor (excluding Loft and Lou & Grey) at once. You have to select a minimum of eight pieces to add to a queue. It takes about three days to process and another two days to ship; you find out exactly which items from your edit are being shipped to you in an email with tracking information for your package.

Where Ann Taylor’s service really shines is in its abundance of workwear. We found pieces like houndstooth ankle pants (which retail for $98), a tweed sheath dress ($159), and a sequined fringe jacket ($129.)

Price: $95 a month. You can return the complete box for a new one as many times as you’d like throughout the month.

Pros: This is one of the best subscription box options out there if you need a big rotating closet of professional clothing. Plus, you get the option of buying clothes you’ve already rented for 60 to 70 percent off.

Cons: Given the higher price tag compared with comparable services, you have to really love the Ann Taylor look. You also have to return a complete box in order to get sent new product.

TL; DR: This is a solid solution to the what-to-wear problem, with some casual attire and cocktail looks thrown in too. Try it here.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Express.

Called the Express Style Trial, this service allows shoppers to rent three items from the brand at a time for $69.95 a month. There’s a pretty big range of merchandise to choose from, all of which feels very current—a striped jumpsuit (which retails for $79.90), a faux-leather-trimmed shift dress (also $79.90), and a satin maxidress ($88).

“We see Style Trial as an complement to our e-commerce and store business, allowing our customers to engage with fashion and experiment with new styles and trends that she may not otherwise invest in,” says Jim Hilt, executive vice president and chief customer experience officer at Express. “It provides our customer with easy access to the latest trends, as well as an ongoing rotation of staple pieces at a fraction of the prices.”

To begin renting, you have to add at least eight items to a virtual closet (though it’s recommended that you add around 20). From that selection, Express creates a box of three pieces to send to you. You can prioritize what you want, through a feature that promises “we’ll try to ship those first.” But once you’re done with those first three, you can ship everything back, and Express will dispatch a new box. You can do this as many times as you want. Express estimates that a super-active user could have 12 different pieces a month (or four boxes); an average user would probably have about nine (or three boxes).

Price: $69.95 a month. You can cancel the subscription at any time, and you can return your boxes to exchange for new items as frequently as you like.

Pros: The price, definitely—if you’re already a big fan of Express, you can maximize the amount of returns that you do throughout the month to get the most product.

Cons: The work-appropriate options are on the limited side (in general, the offerings are much better suited for casual wear). Because of the way that Express builds its subscription boxes, you don’t select the exact items that end up in your shipment. You also can’t cancel your subscription directly online, only over the phone.

TL; DR: If you are already a big Express shopper, the cost benefit of this is pretty great. Try it here.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Rebecca Taylor.

Rebecca Taylor’s foray into subscription boxes, RNTD, is comparable to Rent the Runway Unlimited in price—both are $159 a month. The brand grants you access to a rotating closet with four items at any given time; you must add at least 10 pieces to a queue, from which Rebecca Taylor then puts together your shipment.

“The pricing was meant to be realistic and attainable for our customer,” says Janice Sullivan, president of Rebecca Taylor. In other words: It’s hoping this service opens Rebecca Taylor up to a new shopper who otherwise couldn’t afford to constantly and consistently buy its pieces. And the “new arrivals” section has a solid mix of Rebecca Taylor’s signature dresses as well as some of its more trend-forward garments: a silk embroidered ruffle dress ($395), high-waisted plaid pants ($395), and a laminated navy trench coat ($1,295).

“I think consumers value options, the option to rent, to own, to lend, to resell—as a brand you want to move with her and be there on every level that makes sense,” Sullivan adds.

Price: $159 a month. You get four pieces per shipment, and you can send the box back for new items as often as you’d like.

Pros: It’s hard to not love Rebecca Taylor. And while a closet full of its pieces has long been out of reach for most shoppers, it’s suddenly much more accessible.

Cons: Like with Vince, you can’t return individual pieces to get new ones—only the full shipment. That’s really what sets it apart from Rent the Runway Unlimited, which carries Rebecca Taylor.

TL; DR: You’d have a pretty dreamy rotating wardrobe. You just have to love or let go of everything you get as a bundle. Try it here.

PHOTO: Courtesy of New York & Co.

New York & Co.’s NY&Company Closet is one of the most affordable subscription boxes out there, charging $49.95 a month for three items at a time from the brand—return them all, and receive a new selection in the mail.

This offering has a great mix of both work and weekend clothes, making it one of the most versatile single-brand subscription boxes. But like the other stores offering rental service, it’s one brand—you have to like the aesthetic. On offer are pieces like a leopard sweaterdress ($74.95), a red striped blazer ($79.95), and houndstooth wide-leg pants ($79.95).

Price: $49.95 a month. You get three items at a time; you can return the full box for new product as many times as you like.

Pros: You get a lot of bang for your buck with this one.

Cons: The unpredictability of not getting to choose exactly what comes in your shipment isn’t ideal.

TL; DR: This is a great value subscription service for someone who wants to test-drive this method of shopping. Try it here.

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Serena Williams Says She Can Still Be Selfish in Her Marriage, and That’s All I Want

Serena Williams‘s husband Alexis Ohanian does a very good job at reminding me that I’m single. When he bought four billboards just to profess his love for her, I remembered my crush hadn’t texted me back in days. When he posted a tribute to her right before the U.S. Open, I thought to myself, “Wow! I absolutely cannot relate.” And when he asked Williams about her edges on behalf of women on Twitter, I was reminded of the time a guy ghosted me in the park.

Now, he’s at it again. In a new interview with Allure magazine, Williams reveals that she ultimately fell for Ohanian because he doesn’t “dim her light.”

Williams picked up this relationship barometer from Oprah Winfrey, who told her “Never let anyone dim your light.” “That really stuck with me,” the tennis pro tells Allure. “Alexis doesn’t dim my light. He doesn’t try to dim my light. He puts me in the light, even if I don’t want to be. He pushes me to further points I never thought about. It always was something that I could see in some relationships—my light would be dimmer. Now I feel like I can shine really bright and still do everything that I want to do.”

2018 Brand Genius Awards

PHOTO: Getty Images

She continues, “Not to knock anyone else I was with before, because they were all mostly amazing, but I know now I can be selfish, have a great career, and a great partner, someone that believes in me.”

It’s good that Ohanian realizes he’s in a relationship with the greatest athlete of all time and could never dim her light even if he tried. A marriage with someone who worships you that also allows you to be selfish sounds like the literal dream—and exactly what Serena Williams deserves.

For more of Allure‘s conversation with Williams, click here.

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Ulta’s Love Your Skin Sale 2019 Has So Many Great Deals

Skincare products are based on promises we all want kept, like fresh, radiant skin, invisible pores, and preternaturally clear skin. But they can often be hit-or-miss—and when any given serum or eye cream comes with an expensive price tag, it’s especially high-risk, high-reward. That’s the case most of the year, but from now through Saturday, January 26, Ulta’s Love Your Skin sale is making that investment a little more appealing. With 50 percent off some of Ulta’s best skin care, we narrowed down the best deals worth knowing from each day (and did the math for you; the prices here reflect the discount). Get your pen out, because you’re going to want to take notes.

I Got Rid of All My Old Underwear and It Was Lifechanging

A few weeks before Thanksgiving last year, I was on a panel for a lingerie brand where we were talking about who our underthings were for. Namely, when we slipped on a pair of sexy underwear, did we do it for ourselves, or did we do it for the person who might be lucky enough to slip it off? I argued that it wasn’t an either/or issue—it could be a both/and. “I feel sexy when I know that someone wants to rip my panties off,” I argued to a room full of gals grasping gin cocktails.

Then the next morning, I rolled out of bed, took a shower, and opened my underwear drawer to start getting ready—and I was horrified by what was looking back at me. My bras were ratty and stretched out. My underwear were old and full of holes. It was a bleak scene. This was the panty drawer that, according to what I’d told a room full of women the previous evening, was my source of strength and sexiness. And it was a f*cking mess.

Now, looking back at the year I had in 2018, and the lack of sex I had in said year (it was the driest of spells, my friends), it’s not surprising that my panty drawer looked like a post-apocalyptic relic. I worked through a series of hard knocks and bad dates. I lost my job in the beginning of the year, so instead of focusing on dating and caring for myself, I focused on getting my career back on track. Because of my professional pitfalls, I felt like a loser and a failure. And that’s not exactly the hottest feeling in the world, so my dating life suffered. I was in survival mode, not siren mode. My clothing, both visible and not, took a hit as a result.

But that was then. And in the cold light of day, I realized that I needed a change. I wanted my sexy back, and I was going to start with my underwear drawer. But instead of just relying on the same stretch cotton I typically did, I was going to finally indulge in some lacy underthings. (My fun fact is that, in the years before this panty overhaul, I’d just go commando on dates where I thought that sex was a possibility. Yes, even in a dress. I know.)

To me, lingerie was always the ultimate indulgence. It was one of those things that I’d dreamed of owning when I was broke and living off pasta in college. “When I make it, I want to invest in some amazing lingerie,” I’d tell my friends. “That’s how I know that I’m successful.” Until then, I relied on bargain bin panties and bras at a heavy discount. Were they cute? Absolutely not. But economic? Of course. My Depression-era grandmother would be proud of those panty purchases.

Tossing out the old undies felt like I was cutting ties with a part of myself that no longer served me

One of the benefits of the tough 2018 I’d was that I started making good money as a freelancer—more, in fact, than I’d made in my previous full-time jobs. I hadn’t exactly “made it” per se, but I did have a little extra income to splurge on some bras and panties. That, coupled with the insane Black Friday sales that came up a few weeks later, and I was able to do a complete overhaul for a grand total of less than $300. I shopped around, but got the most stuff from Savage x Fenty, because their sizing was amazing and their deals—like three-packs for $30—were fabulous. (Leave it to Rihanna to do lingerie right.)

Every time a package arrived, it felt like it was Christmas morning. I’d open them up, lay my bounty on my bed, and do a little fashion show for myself in the mirror of my bedroom. The transformation I felt was instant, and it was incredible. Slipping on the new underthings, for me, was like popping on Wonder Woman’s arm cuffs. I felt invincible and confident, regardless of what I was wearing on top of the underwear. Underneath, I had super powers.

Tossing out the old undies felt like I was cutting ties with a part of myself that no longer served me. I was saying goodbye to the sad, schlubby gal who spent her days in leggings and cried because she didn’t know how she was going to pay her bills. I’d replaced her with a newer, more confident person who felt good in her skin. My underwear, surprisingly, was the foundation of that transformation. I’d slip it on in the morning and look at myself in the mirror with nothing but my panties on. I felt good about the way I looked, which made me want to take that energy into the rest of my day. I started dressing in clothing, not loungewear, and I started feeling better about the way I looked. And all it took was a new wardrobe of underwear. Who knew?

Since then, I’ve become a big proponent of the lingerie overhaul. I know it’s a luxury that seems incredibly unnecessary for a lot of women. I get it. I used to order packs of underwear off of Amazon and call it a day. But I cannot stress the beauty of doing something that solely for you. They don’t have to be frilly and lacy with mesh or bows—just something you feel excited to put on each morning the same way you do with a favorite dress or pair of boots. For me, that’s sheer lace bra and G-string. If someone else gets to see them? Well, that’s great too.

Maria Del Russo is a sex and relationship writer in Brooklyn, NY. Her first book, Simple Acts of Love, will be out this summer.

I Got Rid of All My Old Underwear, and It Was Life Changing

A few weeks before Thanksgiving last year, I was on a panel for a lingerie brand where we were talking about who our underthings were for. Namely, when we slipped on a pair of sexy underwear, did we do it for ourselves, or did we do it for the person who might be lucky enough to slip it off? I argued that it wasn’t an either/or issue—it could be a both/and. “I feel sexy when I know that someone wants to rip my panties off,” I argued to a room full of gals grasping gin cocktails.

Then the next morning, I rolled out of bed, took a shower, and opened my underwear drawer to start getting ready—and I was horrified by what was looking back at me. My bras were ratty and stretched out. My underwear were old and full of holes. It was a bleak scene. This was the panty drawer that, according to what I’d told a room full of women the previous evening, was my source of strength and sexiness. And it was a f*cking mess.

Now, looking back at the year I had in 2018, and the lack of sex I had in said year (it was the driest of spells, my friends), it’s not surprising that my panty drawer looked like a post-apocalyptic relic. I worked through a series of hard knocks and bad dates. I lost my job in the beginning of the year, so instead of focusing on dating and caring for myself, I focused on getting my career back on track. Because of my professional pitfalls, I felt like a loser and a failure. And that’s not exactly the hottest feeling in the world, so my dating life suffered. I was in survival mode, not siren mode. My clothing, both visible and not, took a hit as a result.

But that was then. And in the cold light of day, I realized that I needed a change. I wanted my sexy back, and I was going to start with my underwear drawer. But instead of just relying on the same stretch cotton I typically did, I was going to finally indulge in some lacy underthings. (My fun fact is that, in the years before this panty overhaul, I’d just go commando on dates where I thought that sex was a possibility. Yes, even in a dress. I know.)

To me, lingerie was always the ultimate indulgence. It was one of those things I’d dreamed of owning when I was broke and living off pasta in college. “When I make it, I want to invest in some amazing lingerie,” I’d tell my friends. “That’s how I know that I’m successful.” In the meanwhile I relied on bargain-bin panties and bras at a heavy discount. Were they cute? Absolutely not. But economic? Of course. My Depression-era grandmother would be proud of those panty purchases.

Tossing out the old undies felt like I was cutting ties with a part of myself that no longer served me.

One of the benefits of the tough 2018 I’d had was that I started making good money as a freelancer—more, in fact, than I’d made in my previous full-time jobs. I hadn’t exactly “made it” per se, but I did have a little extra income to splurge on some bras and panties. Couple that with the insane Black Friday sales that came up a few weeks later, and I was able to do a complete overhaul for a grand total of less than $300. I shopped around but got the most stuff from Savage x Fenty, because their sizing was amazing and their deals—like three-packs for $30—were fabulous. (Leave it to Rihanna to do lingerie right.)

Every time a package arrived, it felt like it was Christmas morning. I’d open it up, lay my bounty on my bed, and do a little fashion show for myself in the mirror of my bedroom. The transformation I felt was instant, and it was incredible. Slipping on the new underthings, for me, was like popping on Wonder Woman’s arm cuffs. I felt invincible and confident, regardless of what I was wearing on top of the underwear. Underneath, I had super powers.

Tossing out the old undies felt like I was cutting ties with a part of myself that no longer served me. I was saying goodbye to the sad, schlubby gal who spent her days in leggings and cried because she didn’t know how she was going to pay her bills. I’d replaced her with a newer, more confident person who felt good in her skin. My underwear, surprisingly, was the foundation of that transformation. I’d slip it on in the morning and look at myself in the mirror with nothing but my panties on. I felt good about the way I looked, which made me want to take that energy into the rest of my day. I started dressing in clothing, not loungewear, and I started feeling better about the way I looked. And all it took was a new wardrobe of underwear. Who knew?

Since then I’ve become a big proponent of the lingerie overhaul. I know it’s a luxury that seems incredibly unnecessary for a lot of women. I get it. I used to order packs of underwear from Amazon and call it a day. But I cannot stress the beauty of doing something that’s solely for you. Your underwear don’t have to be frilly and lacy with mesh or bows—just something you feel excited to put on each morning the same way you do with a favorite dress or pair of boots. For me, that’s a sheer lace bra and G-string. If someone else gets to see them? Well, that’s great too.

Maria Del Russo is a sex and relationship writer in Brooklyn. Her first book, Simple Acts of Love, will be out this summer.

Rift Valley Fever Could Be the Next Global Health Crisis For Pregnant Women

The Zika virus is not the only mosquito-borne virus pregnant women need to know about. According to new research, Rift Valley fever is poised to become an even more dangerous global health crisis—especially if you’re pregnant.

The idea that something as innocuous as a mosquito bite could cause severe birth defects, is nothing short of terrifying. When cases of Zika broke out in 2015, experts quickly declared it a global health crisis, issuing travel warnings and safe-sex recommendations to help stem its spread. But Zika isn’t the only mosquito-borne virus that pregnant women need to know about—researchers are growing increasingly concerned about the virus that causes Rift Valley fever (RVF), which is found throughout Africa and the Middle East.

In a recently published study, a team of researchers studied the effects of Rift Valley fever using infected rats and human fetal tissue—and their findings are setting off alarm bells among global health officials. The virus, according to the report, can infect the layer of cells in the placenta that’s responsible for delivering nutrients to the fetus. Translation: Unlike Zika, which indirectly affects the placenta, RVF is able to take a short cut, which can mean birth defects and death when pregnant women are infected, according to a report on the study by the New York Times.

To be clear, RVF hasn’t yet reached the level of global health crisis for pregnant women like we’ve seen with Zika—the World Health Organization has called the RVF a potential public health emergency, according to the New York Times. But researchers are on alert now in an effort to help pregnant women across the globe stay ahead of the curve. “Zika caught everybody by surprise,” study author Amy Hartman, Ph.D., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, told the New York Times. “If doctors had known about Zika’s birth effects, they could have done a lot more to protect pregnant women and babies. With Rift Valley fever, we’re trying to get ahead of the curve.”

RVF isn’t exactly new. The virus is primarily found in livestock throughout sub-Saharan Africa but it can be transmitted to humans via mosquitos where it can cause flu-like symptoms, liver issues, and in pregnant women, birth defects that can be life-threatening for the fetus. In 2000, there was also an outbreak of RVF in the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization, which raised the possibility that it could spread to other parts of the world just like Zika.

The good news? So far, there are only two cases of fetuses infected with RVF on record, the New York Times reports, but since the disease can be asymptomatic (meaning pregnant women may not even know they’ve been infected), the researchers note it’s possible many more cases could have been misdiagnosed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms of RVF include fever, weakness, back pain, dizziness, and weight loss. Most people recover after a few days but severe cases can involve brain swelling, and in extremely rare cases, death.

At this stage, there are no Zika-like travel advisories for pregnant women related to RVF. But if you’re traveling while pregnant, it pays to take extra precautions, says Adeeti Gupta, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN and founder of Walk-In GYN Care in New York. “I would say, exercise caution while traveling to sub-saharan Africa, West Africa and Madagascar. Thankfully, it is not a widespread health emergency yet,” she says. The best thing you can do is protect yourself against mosquito bites—especially when you’re traveling in Africa or the Middle East.

And to be extra safe, Dr. Gupta advises flagging any travel to your doctor while you’re pregnant so that you can stay up on any risks and get any appropriate vaccinations. “You should also be aware of any infections—even mild flu like illnesses,” upon your return, Dr. Gupta says. “If you experience any such symptoms, seek medical care to get tested for conditions such as Zika to stay ahead of the game.”

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Ashley Judd’s Sexual Harassment Case Against Harvey Weinstein Was Just Dismissed

Actress Ashley Judd was one of the first women to publicly speak out against former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and in May of last year she filed a lawsuit against him alleging that her career was damaged by lies he spread about her in Hollywood after she spurned his sexual advances.

On January 9, a federal judge in California dismissed a portion of her suit, stating that her sexual harassment allegations did not fall within a specific legal statute. According to the New York Times, Judge Philip Gutierrez’s order was clear in saying that he was not ruling as to whether or not Judd as sexually harassed “in the colloquial sense of the term” but that the law could not be applied because she did not have a “specific business arrangement” with Weinstein at the time, which is a legal requirement.

So basically, the judge is not saying that Judd’s claim that Weinstein appeared in a bathrobe during a business meeting and asked her to let him massage her and watch him shower didn’t happen, just that it’s not sexual harassment under the California law because recent changes to the statue mandate that sexual harassment only applies if there is a specific business relationship between the parties. (The judge also did not state that it did happen.) That sounds like a pretty messed up law to me, especially given that Judd says the meeting was indeed about business.

Weinstein has continued to deny Judd’s accusations. “We have said from the beginning that this claim was unjustified, and we are pleased that the court saw it as we did,” Phyllis Kupferstein, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, said in a statement. “We believe that we will ultimately prevail on her remaining claims.”

Despite the recent setback, Judd is continuing with the rest of her case. “Nothing about today’s ruling changes that Ms. Judd’s case is moving forward on multiple claims,” Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., her lead attorney, said in a statement to the Times.

Meghan Markle’s Royal Patronages Have Been Announced, and Two Come From the Queen Herself

2019 just got a lot busier for Meghan Markle. Along with moving to a new house in Windsor with Prince Harry, welcoming her first baby in the spring, and fending off annoying rumors in the press, the Duchess of Sussex has four official new royal patronages to add to her workload.

This morning, January 10, Kensington Palace announced the first organizations that Markle will lend her name and energy to as a royal patron—and they all make so much sense given everything we know about her passions: women’s empowerment, eduction, the arts, and animals. Also, two of her royal assignments come directly from Queen Elizabeth II herself.

“The Duchess is delighted to become Patron of both national and grassroots organisations that are part of the fabric of the UK, and is very much looking forward to working with them to bring wider public attention to their causes,” the statement says. “Her Royal Highness feels she can use her position to focus attention on, and make a particular difference to these organisations and, more widely, the sectors they each represent.”

Here’s a quick breakdown of these groups:

The National Theatre

The former Suits actress should feel right at home in the theater. Prior to today, the queen has been its royal patron for 45 years so it’s a pretty big deal for her to pass this honor along to her granddaughter-in-law. According to the Palace, “The National Theatre’s mission is to make world class theatre that’s entertaining, challenging and inspiring – and to make it for everyone.” Markle believes in using the arts as a way to bring people together, so this is a good fit.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU)

This patronage also comes straight from the Queen—it’s been rumored to be one of Markle’s new patronages since the duchess made a trip to King’s College back in December.

The ACU is the “world’s first and oldest international university network” and focuses on key principles like the value of higher education to society. If that doesn’t sound like a perfect match for Markle, I’m not sure what does. On her first royal tour with Prince Harry, she spoke about the importance of her college education at Northwestern University. “As a university graduate, I know the personal feeling of pride and excitement that comes with attending university,” she said. “From the moment you receive your acceptance letter to the exams you spend countless late nights studying for, the lifelong friendships you make with your fellow alumni to the moment that you receive your diploma, the journey of higher education is an incredible, impactful, and pivotal one. I am also fully aware of the challenges of being able to afford this level of schooling for many people around the world, myself included.”

Smart Works

Smart Works is a smaller charity that will likely see a huge impact by being connected to Markle. It was formed in 2013 to “to help long term unemployed and vulnerable women regain the confidence they need to succeed at job interviews, return to employment and transform their lives.” According to Kensington Palace, she has visited many times already and even helped women (over half of whom are minorities) with coaching and interview preparation. “The Duchess’s patronage will inspire the women we serve and help them reach for the stars,” said founder Juliet Hughes-Hallett.

Mayhew

Markle’s love of animals (including her own rescue dogs) is well-documented so Mayhew, an animal welfare charity working to improve the lives of dogs, cats, and people in communities both in London and internationally, is a natural fit. The organization was founded all the way back in 1896 and includes services like a Pet Refuge program to provide animal care during short-term crises. Bonus: Hopefully this means photos of Markle and her husband with lots of adorable animals.

Well done, Duchess. We’re excited to see all the good work that’s sure to come in 2019.

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Lady Gaga Regrets Her ‘Twisted’ Duet With R. Kelly and Vows to Take It Off Streaming

Lady Gaga has broken her silence on her 2013 collaboration with R. Kelly, apologizing for the message it sends survivors. In a statement released on Twitter one week after a new docuseries focused on claims of sexual assault against R. Kelly premiered, Gaga denounced their single “Do What U Want” and vowed to remove it from iTunes and other streaming platforms.

“What I am hearing about the allegations against R. Kelly is absolutely horrifying and indefensible,” she wrote in a post shared the morning of January 10. “As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song [‘Do What U Want’] and video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life.”

The video for “Do What U Want”—which was directed by Terry Richardson, another man who’s been accused of sexual misconduct—was ultimately scrapped, but bits from it leaked online. In the clip, R. Kelly plays a doctor who puts Gaga under anesthesia and then throws a party in the operating room while she’s out cold. To call the concept disturbing—especially given the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct against R. Kelly—would be an understatement.

“The song is called ‘Do What U Want (With My Body),’ I think it’s clear how explicitly twisted my thinking was at the time,” Gaga went on to explain.

In November 2013 Gaga and R. Kelly performed “Do What U Want” for the first time at the American Music Awards. The high-concept number had Gaga playing a Marilyn Monroe figure and R. Kelly portraying the president. They also performed the song together on Saturday Night Live.

“If I could go back and have a talk with my younger self I’d tell her to go through the therapy I have since then, so that I could understand the confused post-traumatic state that I was in—or if therapy was not available to me or anyone in my situation—to seek help, and speak as openly and honestly as possible about what we’ve been through,” Gaga also wrote in her statement.

The Joanne singer says that she “stands behind these women 1000%, believe them, know they are suffering and in pain, and feel strongly that their voices should be heard and taken seriously,” referring to the women who have come forward to accuse R. Kelly of sexual assault both in the current Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly and otherwise. (R. Kelly has denied the allegations.)

“I have demonstrated my stance on this issue [sexual assault] and others many times throughout my career. I share this not to make excuses for myself but to explain,” she added. In September 2015 Gaga released a song about sexual assault called “Til It Happens to You.” It was used in the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground and earned an Oscar nomination the following year.

Surviving R. Kelly has put the rapper’s actions back into public consciousness—including his work with Lady Gaga. It was after the series premiered on January 3 that pressure on Gaga to speak out mounted on social media.

“I’m sorry, both for my poor judgment when I was young and for not speaking out sooner,” Gaga wrote at the end of her statement.

Read Gaga’s full statement for yourself, above.

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Lady Gaga on Pop, Politics, and the Power of Women

Lady Gaga Opened Up About the “Tornado of Pain” Caused by Sexual Assault

Lady Gaga Just Got Roasted for Her “100 People in a Room” Comment at the 2019 Golden Globes

Why Staycations Are the Ultimate Self-Care Splurge

Once upon a time, working from home was the dream. I would have freedom and flexibility. I could craft my schedule as I desired and be my own boss. I envisioned having a designated writing desk that overlooked a bustling cityscape, complete with never-ending French press coffee and a stack of periodicals that I actually had time to read.

And then I started working from home.

My expectations were a little…off. I should note that I don’t work from home full time. I have a day job in Washington, D.C., that requires me to be in an office four days a week. I have a great team and enjoy the work, but balancing my 9-to-5 with my schedule as a writer and consultant is tough. My early mornings, evenings, and weekends are almost entirely set aside for freelance projects. Put another way, I spend a lot of time at home.

I’ve always associated the concept of home with a personal sanctuary. I grew up in a humble, two-bedroom house. Our space was small, and my space was even smaller. Regardless, it was essential that I make it my own: I stuck those glow-in-the-dark stars and moons onto the ceiling of my room. I taped up pages that I’d ripped out of my favorite fashion magazines. And you better believe I squeezed a bright blue blow-up chair in there sometime between 1998 and 2000.

I like to think that my interior design skills have improved since then. And while I believe I have created a clean, cozy, and inviting home as an adult (thanks, Marie Kondo), I never really considered the effect working from home would have on my so-called sanctuary.

For starters, it’s less a sanctuary and more a place that reminds me that I have work to do. I still get nice and comfy on my sofa, bundle up in a fleece blanket, and binge watch Queer Eye like the best of them. But my laptop (and, even worse, my desktop) give me some serious side-eye the whole time.

So often, before I know it, I’m knee deep in spreadsheets, calendars, and project management apps because when you run your own business, there is literally always work to do. I go to bed stressed and wake up stressed. My bed used to be my happy place. Now it’s just where I try to switch off for the day.

Not being home—even though it was just a couple miles away—gave me permission to finally hit the off button.

Near the end of last year, as I rapidly approached burnout, I decided that I had to get out of my apartment. Otherwise, I was never going to stop obsessing over my workload. It also happened to be my birthday month, which is pretty much the only excuse I need to spend what I would ordinarily consider exorbitant amounts of money on myself.

My proposal to my fiancé went a little something like this: Let’s “waste” away a weekend at a buzzy, hip hotel in a neighborhood on the other side of town. Their flagship restaurant had been getting rave reviews since its opening, but—like with everything else in my life—I let work get in the way of ever making a reservation and checking it out.

Now, we had the perfect excuse. We were hotel guests and could easily saunter down to the restaurant from our room. The meal lived up to the hype, and we stayed up until 2 a.m. (!!!) drinking overpriced cocktails alongside off-the-clock lobbyists and Capitol Hill staffers.

The next day, I proceeded to stay in our absurdly soft king size bed for approximately seven hours. At first, shame and a sense of urgency began to creep in. Surely I should actually—oh, I don’t know—get up and do something? Didn’t I have an email to reply to? An invoice to submit? A story idea to flesh out?

Yes, yes, and yes. But not being home—even though it was just a couple miles away—gave me permission to finally hit the off button. I left my phone plugged into its charger for hours without checking it. It was the most liberated I’d felt in months. Every time I thought about climbing out of that unbelievably comfortable bed, I reminded myself that I was intentionally taking this time and spending this money to rest. When thoughts about my workload began to creep in, I immediately countered them with, “The only job you have right now is to not be obliged or committed to anyone or anything other than yourself.” In other words, your job is to switch off. When I reframed my thinking in this way, everything changed.

It reminded me of a time I was in therapy and had a revelatory breakthrough: Sometimes, self-care is doing nothing. Yes, yoga classes are great. Mani/pedis are great. A glass of wine is great. Going to a movie is great. But you know what else is great, especially for us perpetually burnt out millennials? Doing. absolutely. nothing.

The key, of course, is to not let the guilty feeling that you should be doing something (and at all times) consume you. Getting out of my home environment played an essential role in making that sense of guilt less palpable. And once that happened, I became more comfortable with the idea of spending a whole day in bed, literally doing nothing other than channel surfing and talking to my fiancé (when I wasn’t sending him on snack runs to local coffee shops—God bless that man). While having him around to pick up food and chat about the trending news of the day was a pleasure in and of itself, I can definitely see the appeal of a completely solo staycation.

“We’ve noticed an increase in women taking staycations, especially with other women for a ladies weekend or even alone just to get away,” says Sarah Abelsohn, marketing manager at Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa in La Jolla, California. “Women are feeling more empowered to travel alone. They understand that taking time for themselves and unplugging is necessary and important for maintaining a work-life balance.”

“Anything I do for myself—like a weekly blowout—is really done to save time so I can work some more. It’s paramount for my sanity to take a staycation.”

That’s what Kerry Gillick-Goldberg has done every year for the past four years.

“I take an annual staycation after my final client event of the season at the end of October,” says Gillick-Goldberg, a public relations and marketing professional. “I take two days to de-stress, have a massage, get my hair done, and not think about being a wife and mother. I actually invite my husband for a dinner date and then make him go home.”

Like me, Gillick-Goldberg has workaholic tendencies that can be hard to tame and control. Her staycation is her conscious attempt at finding a way to “truly relax.”

“I tend to work a lot, and anything I do for myself—like a weekly blowout—is really done to save time so I can work some more,” she explains. “I think it’s paramount for my sanity to take a staycation. I’m only 30 minutes from home and can be available in case of a true emergency. And since it’s so close by, I have absolutely no guilt.”

As a single mother working from home, Christina Towle says that staycations help her mix up the boredom that can come with an everyday routine. She lives two hours outside of New York City and frequently plans staycays at Loews Regency Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

“I can go to their in-house spa and gym, walk to Central Park, and go to Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorfs to shop,” Towle says. “On top of the fun, there is also business I can do, like planning meeting with clients and using the hotel’s business center. And it’s an extremely cozy hotel so it feels homey.”

Admittedly, I’m not the best at shopping around for deals. Including food, drinks, and valet parking, my escape weekend cost about $850—more than a spa day or shopping spree to be sure, but less than your typical full-blown vacation. (This time of year—a.k.a. the dead of winter—if you don’t live in sunny locales, you can find discounts on many luxury hotels. John Maibach, managing director of the Loews Regency, says that January is a particularly popular month for staycations. “There’s about a 10 percent increase of New Yorkers staying with us this year compared to last January,” Maibach shares. “Typically, January is a quieter month in New York overall. This gives locals the opportunity to take advantage our special offers and packages that are not available all year round.”)

Although I’m budget-conscious, I’m willing to spend on staycations because I know the return on investment: I’m paying for an escape, both physically and mentally, that will force me to slow down. I may not be able to jet set to an exotic locale every time I need to get away. But I can definitely get lost in a sea of crisp white sheets for an entire weekend. And these days, that’s honestly the only escape I need.

Mekita Rivas is a multicultural writer, editor, and content strategist based in Washington, D.C. She frequently covers culture, style, travel, and wellness.