Fashion Fix: What to wear and where to find it

Mar 09, 2010

Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas answered your questions about the latest fashions, how to make the runway trends work for you and how to shop wisely.

Hi, everyone,
Welcome to this Tuesday's Fashion Fix.  Because spring weather will soon be here (I hope, I hope), I've been thinking about what I want to buy and what's in my closet already.  I have a couple of events on my social calendar and have decided to shop my own closet instead of going on a shopping jag. It's kind of amazing how much you can discover. What about you -- have any tales to tell us of shopping your closet? For the best suggestions, we have goodies -- Naturopathica's  Pear Fig Polishing enzyme peel and Benefit's Bathina body balm.

I hope you'll take my question, because I am planning to leave to go shopping right after the chat! My friends and husband have told me reliable Levis are absolutely the worst and just not fashionable enough. So I guess it's time to invest in some expensive name brand jeans. I figure, if I'm spending the dough, I might as well get the most trendy jeans possible. I have to go somewhere - the Denim Bar I guess - to get accurately measured, but I am dreading this fashion chore and trying on tons of jeans. What's in for an early 40-something with no kids who is petite, slim, and short? Thanks!!

I wouldn't say Levi's are the worst -- the brand has some new, more fashionable styles than what we all knew and loved in the 80s and 90s. But regardless of where you shop, the secret to great-fitting jeans lies in two factors: the degree of stretch and the quality of tailoring. That's what makes the difference between run-of-the-mill denim and jeans that look like they're made for you. For a petite, slim figure, a straight-leg or moderately skinny jean will flatter and lengthen your legs. Also try a wide-leg trouser jean that falls at the base of your heel, which will give you legs for days. Before you hit up a high-end boutique, don't pass up places like Filene's Basement or Loehmann's, where you can  occasionally find brands like Seven or Citizens of Humanity for around $99.

It's sunny and on the verge of spring but still chilly. What leg looks are appropriate for this transitional weather as we pull out more dresses and skirts? Tights seem heavy going into spring.

I'm starting to tire of my black opaque tights, too, and have been switching it up and trying out dark charcoal, light sheer gray and navy options. Patterns, Swiss dots and lace feel a bit more fresh, and if you've looked at any spring catalogs lately, you'll see a lot of dainty socks paired with heels and oxfords.

I just bought a silk red dress with a beautiful knit-type collar (it has that intricate, cut-out, design) and a seam right at my waist. I'm going to wear it to a wedding and want to belt it but don't know what kind of belt to use... and what kind of shoes. The wedding is in the country so I'm not too worried about needing to dress it up but my dark brown braided belt looks too dark with it. Thoughts on style or color? I was thinking about platform shoes. Thanks!!

Your dress sounds beautiful! A narrow cream, ivory or gold belt might be a nice touch and add a little vintage vibe to the look. I'd keep the rest of your accessories simple and go with a black patent pump and black clutch.

I just got a new job after 12 years with my current employer. Given my new title and responsibilities, I need to step up my wardrobe. My look is professional, but not as polished as it could be. Before I go out and buy new clothes, what should I keep in mind so I finally look the part?

Making sure whatever you wear fits you well -- if not, find a top-knotch tailor. Also, get a good, easy-to-maintain haircut. Good grooming is key to looking professional.  Lastly, a pair of pumps and flats that you can wear with everything.

I have a gorgeous creamy-white wool skirt suit and am wondering what kind of hosiery I should wear with it? I used to wear sheer nude nylons but you've got me second-guessing that option. Please help! Thanks!

I have a similar predicament and I'm saying no to nude nylons and opting to go for bare legs, albeit with some self-tanning solution so they don't scare everyone.

Are longer blouses and cardigans over now? I have my eye on a beautiful sheer mohair cardigan for summer, but it's mid-thigh length. Which isn't a bad length for me, I'm 5'9" size 8. But I don't want it to look dated soon. Lip color. Are brights like coral red too aging on a pale-skinned person after 35? I loved how Sandra Bullock looked last night, but she's got great skin & dark hair to balance the red lips.

No, I don' t think the longer look is over -- plus, it's a flattering look on a taller frame such as yours, so it won't look dated anytime soon. As far as lips go, red, coral and crimson shades are huge for spring, and anyone can carry them off -- it just depends on the saturation and undertone of the hue. I'm on the pale side too, and I've found that sheer formulas like Lipstick Queen's Fired Up (my personal fave) are easy, fuss-free and don't make me look overdone.

I missed the Oscar fashion chat yesterday, but wanted to say that I thought Molly Ringwald looked amazing. Loved her dress and jewelery.

Thanks for chiming in -- I thought her dress was quite flattering, and I liked her jewelry too.

I really need some help! I am 15 weeks pregnant and would love to find some stylish maternity clothes. I've looked in several chain maternity stores to no avail - everything is incredibly expensive but looks cheap. I don't mind spending a bit of money to look good, but I refuse to pay over $100 for a pair of polyester pants!

Producer chiming in here as I just went through this. The chains are terrible aren't they? And expensive! And the clothes fall apart so quickly. That said, I did find useful maternity pieces at Gap and Target. My favorite pair of maternity jeans were from Lucky.

As far as boutiques go, I had good luck at Appleseed in Old Town Alexandria and have heard good things about Wiggle Room in Bethesda for consignment. I've also seen people recommend the brands Isabella Oliver and Japanese Weekend for style and quality, though they're both pricey. There's a good thread on this on the DC Urban Moms expectant moms board. Good luck!

Any other chatters have suggestions?

Submitting early because I'll be in a meeting (boo!). This may be a dumb question, but when is the appropriate time to stop wearing tights? Is there a particular date or when the temperature gets to a certain level that I should stop wearing them?

There's no specific time to stop wearing tights -- it's pretty much up to you and your internal temperature monitor. But when it the Fahrenheit goes above, say 75, you may be hot and uncomfortable wearing tights.

HI ladies, love the chats. In the past few months there's been talk of undereye concealers. I'm looking for a new one. Problem I'm having is that they seem to have all these highlighting pigments in them, which almost makes me look like a reverse raccoon. Anyone know of one that is more matte, or am I just using the wrong color? The highlighting ones have come from makeup artists at department stores after doing makeovers...Trish McEvoy, Chanel, YSL...so it's not like I'm doing this blind. I think the lighting in department stores makes me not see the problem as much. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

I thought I was the only person in the world who didn't adore YSL's Touche Eclait, so it's good to know I'm not alone. I use Make Up For Ever's Full Cover concealer, and I also keep Benefit's Erase Paste and a NARS concealer palette on hand as well. Also, try patting a translucent pressed powder over the concealer, which will set it and should make it appear more matte.

What seasons are appropriate to wear peep-toe shoes? I was shoe shopping a few weeks ago, looking for basic pumps, and all I came across were peep-toes. Very cute but for general office shoes, are these appropriate? I know the trend was to wear tights but if I'm looking to wear pantyhose, these don't seem right. Sometimes it's cold and I want all my extremities covered! Same goes for sling-back.. I only wear them in the spring/summer when I feel it's okay. Am I out of the loop?

Don't think there's much point in wearing peep-toes with tights. The whole idea is to show off prettily manicured toes. As for wearing peep-toes to the office, that depends on your office. But if you're questioning their appropriateness, it's best to err on the conservative side and find yourself some pumps. Have you looked on Zappo or Piperlime or Simply Soles? Agree with you about slingbacks -- they're best in spring and summer when you can wear them without tights.

Is there one place - or two to shop for both work and casual clothes for a - dare I say fashionable? - woman of 44. I feel stuck between juniors and seniors if you know what I mean. I am average everything - height, weight, etc. thanks

I understand. It's tough to find clothing that's fashionable that's not too juvenile or too matronly. I would not have recommended Eileen Fisher before, but they've recently redone their line with hipper-looking clothing suitable for women in their 30s, 40s, 50s and up.

Not exactly a fashion question, but with the start of spring nearing and summer just around the corner, I want to commit to wearing sunscreen every day. Problem is, I can't find anything that my skin absorbs nicely - everything I've tried either leaves a sticky residue or a grimy feeling. I figure I would use some sort of lotion with SPF included, but I have oily skin. Do you or the readers have any suggestions for a good SPF that wears well under makeup and doesn't have a 'sunscreen'-y feel? Thanks! You guys are the best. I love your chats!

Producer here again -- I have combination skin and tried many different facial lotions before settling on Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF-30. Been using it for years now and love it. It absorbs nicely, doesn't feel oily and really helps with dry areas.

I like Clinique's Superdefense SPF 25 for summer, which you can get in a formulation for combination to oily skin. A dusting of pressed powder should take down the shine that comes with pretty much any SPF lotion; as an alternative, you might try a tinted moisturizer with SPF already included.

Help! I'm getting married in April and I'll be honest, I'm fashion challenged and don't like dresses or skirts. Since it is a once in a lifetime event, I've been told by every woman in my life I have to wear a dress to the rehearsal dinner. I agree with them, but am overwhelmed with where to start, mostly because I'm 5'8, 170 and a 36E. Can you all help?

Since it's your rehearsal dinner I think you should wear whatever you're comfortable wearing and if you don't like dresses or skirts, well, then, don't wear them. For spring, designers came out with some great-looking pants suits that you can dress up with jewelry and shoes.

Hey! I'm a bridesmaid at a wedding at a vineyard in Sonoma, CA this July. Here's the dress, and the color is black plum. The bride said black shoes, I'm thinking some sort of wedge so I don't sink into the ground, but everything I see on Zappos looks too clunky or not formal enough. Any advice on designers or websites to peruse?

How about looking at DSW, Loehmann's, Filene's and Ann Taylor?

Hello, I work in a professional environment, but not necessarily suits. I would like to buy some new clothes for summer. I would describe my figure as curvy, but I am bigger on top than on the bottom and have a bit of a belly. What cuts and pieces should I consider for this summer? I'm looking at all price levels. Thanks!

A wide-leg trouser will help balance out a top-heavy figure, and if you find a pair with a higher rise, they'll help hold in your tummy a bit. A pencil skirt that hits just above the knee will draw the eye down and make your legs look longer, and for tops, look for shallow scoopnecks that flattter your decolletage without revealing too much. And (as always) a good tailor should be your secret weapon for tweaking basic pieces and making them look just right.

I absolutely adored the dress worn by Rachel McAdams at the Oscars. Where can I find a similarly inspired gown in a more normal price range?

I liked that dress by Elie Saab, too. If you wait a little, you may be able to find a similar one by a designer like ABS, who's famous/infamous for knockingoff Oscar fashions.

For the chatter looking for a Rachel McAdams-esque gown, watch a site like EDressMe.com, where knock-offs will start popping up pretty soon. For now, that site's Strapless Ombre Prom Dress by Dave and Johnny is the closest I've found.

What color would you pair with an emerald green silk chiffon dress for a May wedding to make it more spring-like and current? I'm thinking I can bring color in with a new clutch, shoes, and/or a bold necklace or bracelets. Also, it has a tank/deep V silhouette on top. Should necklace(s) be shorter or longer?

For the necklace, I'd go shorter -- you don't want to compete with the V-neck.  For color, a lemon yellow clutch or shoes could make the dress feel more springy.

Hello! I am in my early 30s, and due to a condition I have, need to wear compression stockings daily. Any tips for what to do in the summer when bare legs and sandals are the norm? I should be able to go without them when I go out on the weekends and evenings, but need to wear them all day. Thanks!

I just did a quick search for "open-toe compression stockings" and got a couple hits, so it seems like you should be able to find a pair that will work with open-toe shoes and sandals. In terms of what to wear with them, I'd invest in some great-fitting, crisp white trousers, some lightweight denim and a few good pairs of casual linen pants, which will help you keep cool without baring your legs.

Hi, ladies. Love the chats. The Oscar's got me thinking about seeking a stylist's advice. At 27, I'm caught between styles right now, a mix of classic (Talbot's) and trendy (Torrid). I love my friends, but the few with "fashion sense" have little idea how to dress my body type--I've been described as a coke bottle. I'd rather spend a few extra bucks once on a stylist and flattering clothing, than spend money on clothing that I only wear a couple of times before I catch myself in a different mirror and realize the piece isn't as flattering as I'd thought. I already have a tailor I trust for waists and hemlines. Any recommendations for a reasonably priced stylist or personal shopper in the DC/VA area? By "reasonalby priced" I mean "won't use up my entire tax refund".

Margaret Lilly of Lilly's Closet gets rave reviews from many people, but I don't know what she charges. Lani Rosenstock is another personal stylist in the area -- again, don't know what she charges. Finally, did you know that J. Crew has a personal shopping service. And I bet that you don't have to pay for the advice -- just what your buy.

I have a sheer silk blouse that I love - it is a true, straight-forward brown with a cream motif on it and I typically wear it over a cream camisole. Can you assist with what color to pair it with on the bottom, besides more brown or tan? It looks good with those colors, but sometimes it seems like a lot of brown, especially with brown shoes! Any thoughts?

Earth tones seem like the right palette for a brown-and-cream top -- experiment with persimmon orange and deep purple, or lighten up and try a cream skirt or slacks. Dark-wash denim would also help balance the silky, feminine top.

My legs are so dry, I need to exfoliate daily...with a pumice stone. No amount of lotion moisturizes them. Do you have any suggestions?

Have you tried a moisturizer with alpha hyrdroxy in it? There's an intensive Eucerin for verrrry dry skin.  Baby oil can also help or lanolin.

I have a ton of clothes. Like, a TON, because I'm a bargain shopper and I haven't changed size in about a decade. Every once in a while, I like to throw a few clothes and accessories into a box labeled "archives" and mark the box to be reopened in one year. When I open the box, I've already forgotten what's in there....so it's like a no-budget shopping spree! It also reduces the wear and tear on special, vintage, or delicate items. OK, fine, it's a little weird. But it works for me.

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like a fun idea!

Are bare legs ok now, even though it's chilly? Thanks!

I think it depends on you and your internal thermometer. To look their best, though, your legs will probably require a lot of moisturizer!

Please wear what makes you feel good, not what your friends and husband dictate. Let them pick their own jeans and you pick yours. If you like Levis, they have models for every style.

Let's hear it for Levi's. And, when it comes to jeans, it's all about fit. So, the brand is not nearly as important as how your butt looks in the jeans.

I really love what J. Crew has been doing recently: dressing up more casual pieces (e.g., adding sparkly necklaces to a t-shirt, pairing strappy metallic heels with distressed boyfriend jeans) and conversely, dressing down formal clothing (e.g., casual t-shirts under suits). This style fits my life perfectly, as I work in a business casual office, and also saves money, since many of the pieces are great for both work and weekend. My dilemma: I need additional sources for these types of clothing so that I don't look like a walking J. Crew catalog! Any suggestions? There is a sophistication to the J. Crew pieces (color, style) that I've found tough to replicate. Same price range or a little cheaper would be preferable, though I'm willing to pay for the timeless investment pieces, like suiting and classic sweaters.

I'm a firm adherent to this look, and (on the few occasions I let myself buy new pieces) I rely on Zara, H&M and Urban Outfitters. Those three are all great for things like boyfriend jeans, cropped blazers, basic tees and sweaters -- don't get caught up in the tidal wave of uber-trendy stuff, but make a beeline for the basics. You might also try Madewell, which is J. Crew's sister brand. For jewelry and accessories, try vintage/thrift stores and Forever 21. And I've noticed that the area's consignment stores are chock-full of J. Crew, so it wouldn't hurt to make regular visits and scoop up whatever you find.

I've found the best way to do this is to offer to trade help with an honest friend or sister. I recently went through my sister's closet and divided things into categories such as Goodwill, going into the attic until next winter, weekend clothes, work clothes, multipurpose, etc. My sister watched and questioned why a certain top went into the multipurpose pile. "I wear that under my black suit for board meetings," she would say. Yes, but it would be great in the spring with jeans and a cardigan and flats. You should look at each item and think, "if I owned this, how would I wear it?" and you will be able to help your sister/friend envision new ways to wear their closet staples. Be sure to explore jewelry, belts, and accessories, too. When it's time to trade off and they come to your house, you'll be surprised how many new and fun outfits you never knew you already had! Added bonus- if your sister or friend is around the same size, look through each others' closets for items you can borrow. Wedding season will be starting soon, and I already have three great dresses from my sister's closet picked out to wear!

That's a wonderful method for going through your closet and getting a fresh perspective on what you already own.

I'm also trying to re-wear what I already have rather than buy a lot of new clothes. I've found jewelry is a great way to do it. Adding a bold bangle, an interesting necklace or a statement ring does wonders for making my pencil skirts and cardigans look unique. Nordstrom in Pentagon City has some great jewelry, but I've also scored fun pieces at Target, The Limited, and on QVC.com

Thanks -- good idea.  And what fun to shop for irresistible bargains.

Hi! Love the chats. I'm going to be a bridesmaid in a spring wedding in Napa Valley. Our dresses are navy silk wrap dresses (from Calypso) and the flowers will be cream and peach. The bride wants us to wear shoes in the same color but doesn't care about the same shoes (which is so nice!). However, we are debating shoe colors: black, silver, gold, or other? What will look best and be wearable after the wedding? Would love to hear your opinion.

Gold goes great with navy. How about a pair of  gold sandals? You'll be able to wear them all summer -- with capris, skirts, dresses.

Hi - I really must have the yellow stone bib necklace that Minnie Driver wore on Modern Family. I've found it's by Express, but they no longer offer it for sale! Is there a similar one? Anything from canary yellow to chartreuse in that style would be a great find.

Is it this one?

Here's one yellow stone option from Anthropologie, but you might also want to rifle through the options at Forever 21 and Target ... love that show!

"I would not have recommended Eileen Fisher before, but they've recently redone their line with hipper-looking clothing suitable for women in their 30s, 40s, 50s and up." I was reading a fashion blog recently where the writer described a shrug/wrap garment as "early onset Eileen Fisher."

Yes, some of their clothes can make you look like drab and dowdy.

That's all the time we have today -- thanks so much for joining us! The chatter who suggested using an "archive" box gets the Naturopathica peel; the one who suggested using an honest friend/sister to go through the closet gets the Benefit balm. Send your mailing info to fashion@washpost.com and we'll get those prizes in the mail. And see you all next week, same time, same place!

In This Chat
Janet Bennett Kelly
Janet Bennett Kelly is the fashion editor of washingtonpost.com.
Holly Thomas
Holly E. Thomas writes "Trend Report," a weekly fashion and beauty column in the WP Magazine.
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