Jul 20, 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 Fashion Fix and another sizzling summer day in Washington. With so many summer interns in town either working just for the summer or embarking on a career after college, one of the things we'd like to talk about today is how to create a work wardrobe on a budget.  Holly has put together a photo gallery of some smart clothing choices, and here's a link to   Intern Fashion Week for more information. Prizes today focus on skin care -- a June Jacobs After Sun lotion and a Nude Skincare Clarifying toner.

It's harder for me to find clothing I think is adorable in Summer and I also hate the season (I'm a Fall girl all the way). Everything is a pastel, covered in flowers or too casual for work. Can you offer any suggestions as to how to dress for a season I can't stand?

I feel your pain! By August each year, I'm ready to send everything in my closet to Goodwill. Try a palette of light neutrals -- gray, beige, khaki, white and light blue denim, nude, ivory and blush -- and look for lightweight to sheer fabrics like bamboo, silk, slub knits, jersey and cotton. Avoid babydoll dresses and look for silhouettes that are a bit more sophisticated -- draped dresses, skirts in graphic prints or bold colors, and silky, slouchy trousers.

A few weeks ago, someone was inquiring of a reputable tailor in Alexandria. I have since missed some chats, and forget to submit this comment. I have frequented the tailor Luis in Old Town for years. I have had everything from formal gowns (chiffon, even!) to business suits tailored with him. He is truly talented. He is on the second floor of a building on King Street (1026, I believe), and his number is 703.549.0268.

Thanks for sharing this info!

Ladies, I am an anachronism in that I like to wear dresses. Below the knee dresses. I am 55, 5' 11", 160 lbs. so wear size 16 or thereabouts. Garfinckels and Woodies used to have good selections, but of course are defunct. The only store I know of that carries them, other than tres expensive boutiques, is Macy's, but their dresses are almost entirely aimed at size 4 teeny-boppers. So I mostly order from catalogues with, as you can imagine, mixed results. Any suggestions you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

I have found this summer to be a tough time to find dresses that I like, especially ones that fall somewhere close to the knee. One good, but expensives, option to try would be Marina Rinaldi, which is carried at Saks and features larger sizes. The good news is that in fall hemlines look like they're going to fall, so if you can wait, I'm pretty sure you'll have more choice.

I am both plus sized AND tall. Do you have any recommendations for plus sized suits for women in tall lengths? It seems that everything thing I've looked into has a 32" inseam, which is much too short. Thanks for your help! (I'd love it if they had a website, as I am not DC local)

Have you tried Lane Bryant? I know they carry plus sizes and I believe that cater to taller women.

I wear size 9 1/2 slim shoes but almost never find them. I ususally tell shoe clerks " narrow" because slim just makes them roll their eyes! Are there any national brands that cater to us tall gals with slim feet?? At a reasonable price, of course. ( under $80.)

I've had good luck with Sam Edelman -- the ballet flats are super narrow -- and occasionally Steve Madden, Aldo and Nine West. Chatters, any other suggestions for slim/narrow shoes in a 9.5?

I wear narrow shoes as well, and I've found that Vaneli sells shoes in AA. You can find them at Nordstrom. 

Hello! I hope you can provide some advice on my tailoring question! I am wearing this bridesmaid's dress in a couple of months. Its actually quite big on me so I need to get it altered. Here's my issue - in addition to having the straps and the length taken up, I will have to have several inches taken out so it fits around the seam at the top (maybe the back is a better explanation?). The dress is a ton of fabric, so I'm wondering if I can ask a tailor to take out those few inches the whole length of the dress rather than just pinching it at the top. What do you think? Bad idea? Even a reasonable request? Other suggestion?

bridesmaid dress

I can't imagine a tailor simply pinching a dress like this at the top without adjusting the rest of the garment to fit you properly. I'd take it to a tailor that you trust, try it on and get an idea of how he/she plans to fix it -- it's possible it could be taken up along the sides instead of the back, but let the tailor advise you on what will look best. Just make sure you're happy with what they plan to do before they actually do it.

Where can I find chic maternity clothing in the D.C. area, and what clothing shapes and styles are most flattering?

Forever 21 has begun to carry a maternity line. I've only seen a few pieces, but it's worth taking a look  -- the brand just opened a new store downtown in the old Woodies' building, the former location of West Elm.

What do employers think about ear piercings? I'm sure most companies are ok with a single piercing in each year, but what if an intern or employee has more than one?

I think it's less about the number of ear piercings you have and more about the type of earrings you're wearing. Small, inconspicuous studs along the upper earlobe? Probably not a big deal. Hoops, rods, grommets, plugs, etc? Not as easy to conceal, and therefore more likely to cause an issue with your employers. Then again, this depends entirely on your work environment -- an Internet startup will be a lot more forgiving than a law firm, obviously.

Please settle a debate in our office. Are stone colored khakis okay for men in summer, or do they just make men look like they just got off a cruise?

Stone colored khakis are fine, in my opinion -- just make sure they fit properly (not too baggy) and aren't pleated.

How short is too short? I use to just follow the finger-tip rule -- with my arms down to both sides, I had to make sure my finger tips could touch the hemline. But even skirts that follow that rule sometimes seem too short. Still, I have short legs and don't want to wear anything that goes past my knees. What are the rules today for skirt length? (And do those rules change at all if you add leggings or tights?)

The fingertip rule is a good guideline, especially if you're on the petite side. But for tall girls or the particulaly long-legged, just because you can touch a hemline doesn't necessarily mean that miles of leg aren't exposed. In general, steer away from anything that can be described as "mid-thigh" -- aim for just above the knee to halfway between the knee and mid-thigh. You can definitely get away with slightly shorter skirts if you pair them with opaque legwear in the fall/winter, but just remember that tights/leggings don't pass as pants -- so if you're dress is shorter than mid-thigh, you should still probably save it for non-working hours.

Is it okay not to "do" your hair everyday? Is it okay to wear it natural or should it be straightened/curled daily?

If you have naturally curly hair and don't choose to straighten it on a daily basis, I think that's fine. Nor do you need to curl your straight hair every day.  You just need to make sure your hair is properly groomed -- clean and brushed or combed.

Why are we not supposed to wear flip-flops if everyone else in the office does so?

I think flip-flops are fine for the beach, but in an office setting it just looks unprofessional.  Raise the style quotient up notch and lose the flip-flops for a good-looking pair of sandals.

Resubmitting as something blew up as I submitted. I recently bought three Eddie Bauer paisley-patterned tunics. I'm really happy with them--they're light, pretty, and easy to wear. This is my first venture into patterns and colors (I'm a recovering black-a-holic). Even my husband commented that they're pretty and he never notices what I wear. They'll be perfect for our beach vacation in August.

Congratulations for moving out of your black addiction. And thanks for letting us know.

For a happy day trip, try Saxon Shoes in Richmond. My mom, my great-aunt, and I all swear by that store for stylish selection (for all ages!) and a wonderful inventory of sizes. (I'm 9AAA, Mom & aunt are 94A, and we almost never leave empty-handed!)

If  you can make the trip to Richmond,  all you chatters with very narrow feet, here's where to snag shoes that will flatter.

Good morning Holly and Janet, I really hope you are able to take my question, as I'm not quite sure where else to turn at this point. Lately, I've been giving serious consideration to going back to school to study fashion merchandising (I graduated 6 years ago with a Business degree). In your experience, is this a field that I could break into (after school) here in DC, or would I have to move to New York? Would I have to open up my own boutique here in DC to be able to do merchandising, or do owners hire merchandisers? (I'm under the impression that the boutique owners do all of their own merchandising?) I don't want to open my own business, but would rather work for an established company...I'm afraid I'd have to move in order to do that, however I really would love to stay in DC. Any insight you have into this would be SO apprecaited! Or, if you have any resources you could point me towards, that would be equally helpful. Thank you both so much as I try to figure out what I am going to do for the rest of my life!

In a word (and probably a disappointing word) ... no. The fashion industry in general has been hit hard since the recession, but especially in DC -- the few department stores/retail outposts that had local merchandisers have eliminated those jobs in the past few years. From what I've learned from boutique owners, stylists, local designers, etc, it's very hard to make fashion a full-time career here -- a lot of those who are "making it," so to speak, have juggled multiple side jobs to make ends meet. Maybe you should talk to the owners of some of your favorite boutiques about merchandising opportunities, and look into trade associations like Fashion Group International for resources. But in short, it doesn't seem like the opportunities you're looking for exist in DC ... for now.

Hi Ladies, Any thoughts on where to find a slip these days? I work in Friendship Heights with tons of shopping options but I can't figure out where to find a slip to go under dresses. I am 30 and remember wearing slips under dresses when I was a child and then never since. Now I notice a lot of dresses could use this extra layer. Are the still out there? Thanks! Love the chats.

Have you looked at Sylene's in Friendship Heights? They have several slips on their Website.

Many people can "afford" to be lax with professionalism if they have provided valuable service to the company: eg they landed a big account, so management forgives their flip flops and 90 minute lunches. Until you have proven your value to the company, it's best to be as professional as possible, even if nobody else is.

True. I think it's always better to be the person who upholds the standard, rather than the one who makes the standard necessary.

My advice is make sure you DO spend the money for decent pants. It's pretty easy to find flattering tops and blouses at any store, but I have never purchased a pair of cheap pants that looked good on me. They always bunch and bulge in all the wrong places, and then I spend the day feeling self conscious instead of confident. Also, be patient! If you don't find what you need, walk away and try another weekend. Don't fall into the "but I NEED X for Monday" trap - you can almost always get by until the next weekend/sale.

Thanks for passing that thought on. I think this is good advice for all of us, not just interns.  For a good self-image, buy pants/clothes that fit you well.

Hello, thank you for taking my question. Can you or one of the other chatters recommend a good salon in the DC area? Bonus if you know a stylist who is good with fine, curly hair. Thanks!

I'm a big fan of Ury & Associates in Georgetown. Ury, the owner, is a wiz with fine, curly hair. I know that because I go to him, and I have that kind of hair.

That is a nice dress. I'd be so grateful if a bride chose that! It sounds like a LOT of work for a tailor, though, and the results are likely to be less than desirable and very expensive. It sounds like the writer just needs a smaller size?

True, but a lot of times additional sizes aren't an option -- I was once given a bridesmaid dress that was six sizes too big because it was all that was left in stock, which is what I'm assuming is the case here. Hopefully taking out a few inches on each side shouldn't be that much work for a tailor.

You don't need to follow the non-fashion tendencies of your co-workers. We have a "casual Friday" policy in effect all summer, but I choose to continue to wear business casual in the event I'm called to a meeting, or have to meet someone from outside the corporation. And i find that looking polished and professional helps me to be self-assured.

Exactly! That old adage of "dressing for the job you want, not the job you have" still applies.

The website corporette.com provides some pretty good advice (and spurs many a discussion in the comments) regarding what is appropriate for the office. Many of the commentators tend to be attorneys, so the advice skews pretty conservative, but I think the backlog of entries provides good guidelines. Some of the recent discussions have centered on what the professionals in the office think about the apparel of their summer interns, and what it says to them about the intern. Also - flip flops are annoying and not appropriate for most work places.

Thanks for sharing the website! I agree -- I find the sound of flip flops irritating in casual settings, not to mention in an office.

It's a bit frustrating to always see Lane Bryant thrown out as a plus-size option just because you can't think of anything else. LB doesn't really do business attire. While they can be ok for casual clothing, the "suits" they have are actually pretty awful - low quality and unprofessional for an office setting. I don't know how much you're planning to spend, but I've had good luck with Nordstrom and Macys, which carry Anne Klein and Jones New York suits. Depending on your height and size, those brands might work, but the pants length can be tricky. Usually, there's a little bit of give in the hem of pants (and sometimes even the jacket sleeves) so they can be taken down a bit. I've had no problems with the skirt suits. Talbots Womens can also be a good place for decent finds.

Thanks for chiming in!

I'm headed to Berlin for a week's vacation in late November. I'm hearing highs around 45 F and lows around 35 F. What can I wear that's fashionable and reasonably comfortable?

Sounds pretty much like the temps we have around here in early winter.  Choose a jacket or a chunky sweater and slim pants or trouser jeans with boots  for day and then for evening, add jewelry and substitute heels for the boots.

While our office policy says skirts must be at least halfway between fingertip and knee (fingertip is too short for a professional setting), I would advice any young woman starting out to dress for the job she wants, not the one she has--so that means knee length at the shortest. Dress for what you want: sucess and respect, or lots of talking behind your back about how you got that job.

Some advice on skirt lengths ...

I've found it useful to be particularly critical of what works for me, color-wise. While those "what season are you" guides were a starting point, there is also the notion of developing a palette and wearing what makes you feel good. I focus on black, navy, charcoal gray, turquoise, aquamarine, dove gray and white. I mix in accent colors and prints seasonally, buying less expensive items to make my wardrobe feel fresh. The MOST ADORABLE ruffled blouse in goldenrod just won't be coming home with me. I instead just accept that the designer did a great job and that it would look great on Molly Sue.

I'm in total agreement with you. The same goes for whatever you wear -- if the season's hotttest item doesn't flatter you, then don't waste your money buying it. We all have to figure out what looks best with our coloring and on our own bodies.

Please oh please, spare your colleagues and DON"T wear flip flops in the office. First, they look sloppy and unprofessional, especially since some people sort of shuffle in them. But even worse, the annoying, incessant slapping the wearer makes is a serious distraction at best, and more usually a major annoyance.

Another no to wearing flip-flops in the office.

I got one at Lord and Taylor. They had a pretty reasonable selection.

For the chatter in search of a slip, this chatter suggest you check out Lord & Taylor.

One should always follow the advice of the great philosopher James Delaney Buffett who said "I am looking for a smart woman in real short skirt. A smart woman who knows how to flirt." But seriously if you want to taken seriously and not be talked about behind your back by jealous older female staff members. Just above the knee by a couple inches depending on where you are working.

Generally, I agree. If you want to be taken seriously, you should take your wardrobe seriously and recognize that the workplace is a completely different environment, and one that may require some conforming. But consider this, too -- if coworkers want to talk behind your back and come up with snarky reasons why you landed your job, they'll do it based not just on what you wear, but also your conduct, your personality, your level of ambition. Make them talk about you because of that great presentation you gave, not because they could see through your shirt while you gave it.

hi ladies! a good friend of mine is getting married at the end of august and the invitation said "casual and comfortable". i think i can get away with a simple sundress , but how does that translate to my husband? nice slacks and a button down, a polo shirt, nice shorts? and how about shoes?

For your husband, I'd suggest slacks and a button-down shirt, not shorts and a polo. And please no sandals for him!

The dress, in theory, is lovely. But as is the case with most bridesmaid dresses, its shape is not really what the picture shows and unfortunately ordering a smaller size is not an option. (Ironically the sash that comes with it is super tight on me - and I didn't mention before, I fall into the almost petite category in terms of height and curves so most dresses are not terrible on me). I did have a comment on the flip-flops, casual work wear. I think there is a point most interns forget - its not just about what you do in the office that should dictate your dress, but what's going on around you. If co-workers are holding meetings with outside clients etc, you are sending a message to them as well. There are so many options of nice flats, go with one of those. Also, as someone who was a DC intern before entering the workforce, skirts and cardigans were my go-to's. They can look professional (assuming not too short!) and fit into every day wardrobes as well.

Thanks for adding to the discussion!

For the person looking for a good DC Salon - you have to go to Corte Salon. Carlos has given me the best haircut and I have recommended many of my friends to him. I have wavy/frizzy and fine hair and he just does magic to make it look good.

This chatter recommends Corte Salon to the chatter looking for a stylist who can work well with fine, curly hair.

There are still so many sleeveless blouses out there, even in Fall lines. Don't designers get chilly? I theorize it's part of a conspiracy to make me buy a new sweater every time I get a new blouse: they've just made twice as much money.

I love a good conspiracy theory! On the other hand, sleeveless blouses make it easier to layer, and layering has definitely become the buzzword in fashion over the past several years.

Talbot's has a surplus store (i.e. outlet) in Springfield..they have a huge selection of casual, office and evening wear for larger ladies..great stuff at great prices.

Great tip, thanks!

Macy's has a ton of polyester slips -- every length imaginable in black, blush and white. They're awful in this humidity. The real question is where can you find a cotton slip?

Cotton slips don't seem like the best idea, mainly because a slip should allow the material of a dress to move easily, and cotton will encourage clinging. I'd opt for one made out of silk, which you should be able to find at most department stores and lingerie boutiques.

I first entered the workforce back when dinosaurs roamed the earth--no, really only about 20 years ago. I was an editorial assistant who loved fashion and had hardly any money--I'm sure Holly and Janet can attest to entry-level salaries for publishing professionals! I combed through thrift stores and consignment stores for classic, gently-used designer clothing (keep in mind that with thrift stores you have to be persistent and keep going back). Also, I hit the sales at major department stores; you have to buy things a bit out of season, but with classic pieces that doesn't matter. I didn't buy trendy clothing, but did look for trendy accessories which helped to liven things up and were less expensive than the clothing. The one area where I paid full price was shoes--good footwear is important and can really make an outfit look good. Plus, they'll last a long time. I got good wear out of my shoes (at least until I had a baby and my feet grew a size--sigh). You'll be surprised at how easily you can build an impressive and fun wardrobe on not much money.

Thanks for your comments. Looking for sales, shopping consignment stores and livening up the mix with trendy, inexpensive accessories is a great advice for building a career wardrobe when you're first entering the work force. Even if you're not just entering the work force, it's wise to follow those same principles when buying clothes.

My guest from Spain wore nothing but skinny jeans and long balloon tunics. I love the profile, but haven't seen any similar shirts in the US. We have ballon skirts and long tunics, but not balloon tunics (which were woven and held their shape, not kintted tee shirt material). She gets all her stuff from Zeta in Spain, but I can't find a North American store online.

Do you mean Zara, by chance? It's a Spanish fast-fashion retailer, and while they don't have an online store, they do have locations at Metro Center and Georgetown (if you're in the DC area).

Actually, this is good advice for all of us, but even more so for interns who may not be used to dressing up for work: Please, please, please take a good look in a full-length mirror -- front and back -- before you leave the house in the morning. And try this: Lean over -- is the neckline of your blouse high enough/fitted enough to keep the girls from being exposed when you do this? Squat down -- does your underwear peek out the top of your pants/skirt? Raise an arm above your head -- is your stomach exposed? These are all clear signs that your clothes either don't fit well or aren't office appropriate, and they're all problems that aren't necessarily apparent if you just get dressed and run out the door.

That's good advice! Everyone reading?

My daughter, while not a plus size, is very tall and statuesque She's had luck shopping the Gap online, Eddie Bauer online, and Long Tall Sally. She's also had some luck, believe it or not, at JC Penney. I know they have some basics in LT sizes. Love the chat!

Thanks very much!

I would also recommend checking the websites of Target, Ann Taylor Loft, and Gap/Old Navy for some good options - just went through it myself and found some cute things for decent prices.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Thanks for joining us today! All these great tips and suggestions will be very helpful to those entering the workplace for the first time. For the chatter who tipped us off about the Talbot's outlet in Springfield, we have the June Jacobs After Sun lotion; for the one who recommended giving yourself a long hard look in a full-length mirror, we have the Nude Skincare toner. Just send your mailing info to fashion@washpost.com and we'll get those out to you. And join us again next week for more Fashion Fix!

In This Chat
Holly Thomas
Holly E. Thomas writes "Trend Report," a weekly fashion and beauty column in the WP Magazine.

Fashion Q&A's Archive
Janet Bennett Kelly
Janet Bennett Kelly is the fashion editor of washingtonpost.com.
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