Tuesday, Dec. 16, 11:00 a.m. ET

Talking Fashion

Janet Bennett Kelly and MichelleThomas
Fashion and Beauty Editor, washingtonpost.com and Trend Spotter
Tuesday, December 16, 2008; 11:00 AM

washingtonpost.com Fashion and Beauty Editor Janet Bennett joins forces with Sunday Source Trend Spotters Holly E. Thomas and Michelle Thomas to answer questions on everything from what influence Michelle Obama will have on fashion to how to make the runway trends work for you.

They were online Tuesday, Dec. 16, at 11 a.m. ET to answer your fashion and style questions.

A transcript follows.


Janet Bennett Kelly: Good morning and thanks for joining our conversation. Michelle and I are here to take your questions about what to wear for holiday parties, inaugural balls and family dinners. And we're happy to hear your comments and suggestions as well. So, without further ado, let's talk fashion.


Michelle Thomas: Today, the chatters with the best suggestions get these beauty goodies: a 15-shadow eye palette from Pur Minerals and a bath milk from Crabtree & Evelyn's India Hicks Island Night collection.


Conundrum...Washington, D.C.: I dress in what one would call a "tom-boy" fashion. Mostly fashionable T-shirts and pants/jeans of some sort, but lately I've been trying to mature my look and dress in a feminine fashion, so yesterday I wore a pencil skirt to work with black tights. Suddenly, people I never talk to came out of the woodwork to comment on my figure and it was embarrassing, making me disinclined to wear a skirt again soon. I don't want to regress, but is there a way I can do this in steps and up the femininity or style quotient of pants without feeling out of place and awkward? (BTW, I am 26.) Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Embarrassing, eh? Not flattering? Okay, then. How about wearing a feminine blouse -- one with ruffles or some kind of embellishment -- and pairing it with a pair of pants. Give that a try and see how you feel.


Philadelphia, Pa.: I'm attending one of the balls on inauguration night. Although I lived in D.C. for 8 years, I never previously had any desire to attend one so I didn't pay attention to "ball style." I know black tie is the default, but between wide definitions of black tie over the past few years and the general younger, upbeat feel of everything surrounding this president-elect, I'm wondering what you think that constitutes this year. To put it bluntly, do I have to wear a full-length gown? We are attending one of the official balls, but are going to a pre-ball party with folks who are heading everywhere from the convention center to a very un-official ball. P.S. The crowd is anywhere between 25-35.

Michelle Thomas: Nope! Black-tie dress no longer requires full-length gowns. And indeed, a shorter dress is a much more modern approach. Go for something fun!


Arlington, Va.: I'm about to turn 30 and I've never learned how to wear makeup. Is there somewhere I can go that will teach me a few basics? Preferably somewhere that will take my skin and coloring into account and make recommendations based on that. Thank you.

Janet Bennett Kelly: You can go to any department store makeup counter, and one of the salespeople there would be glad to assist. That said, since you're a makeup newbie, I might want to start with a counter like Clinique or Prescriptives or Bobbi Brown, where the colors tend to be more subtle. You could also make an appointment at Bluemercury (locations in Gtown, Dupont Circle and Bethesda) or Bellacara (in Old Town Alexandria). They have staff makeup artists as well as ones who come in from national brands, as do the department stores. You may even want to watch other people being worked on so you can get an idea of how that artist/salesperson works.


Alexandria, Va.: Not quite a fashion question, but I'm stumped. I borrowed my friend's mom's 1967 black velvet high school homecoming dress for a party I went to. It was absolutely fantastic. Problem is, I want to clean it before returning it. I'm scared to death to take it to an average dry cleaner. How do a find a very good dry cleaner who knows how to clean vintage velvet??

Michelle Thomas: I've heard great things about Parkway Custom Dry Cleaner in Chevy Chase -- They specialize in wedding and formal wear, so I imagine they would be equipped for vintage, too. Any other suggestions, chatters?


Tysons Corner, Va.: If you had a $100 to spend on an accessory or accessories to jazz up a basic wardrobe what would you get this season? I'm so tired of my basic outfits these days!!

Janet Bennett Kelly: A big, chunky cuff and/or a chunky necklace. You can find these accessories at places like Cecile Jeanne in Georgetown or Bethesda, Loehmann's locations, Filene's Basement, e-Bay, J. Crew, etc.


Alexandria, Va.: Here's my tip: buy yourself a black "ball" skirt, and then you can swap out the tops for the rest of your life.

I bought a really nice ball skirt 8 years ago, I've got 5 or so tops, from a black/white halter to a blue sweater set. It's been really accommodating, and I wear it to a lot of parties, and people always think it's a "new" outfit.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks for sharing, Alexandria. That's a good way to get mileage out of your clothing.


Washington, D.C.: Hi! I am going to an engagement party right after Christmas, where I'm also meeting my boyfriend's parents for the first time, and I can't figure out what to wear. The party is cocktails at a country club, casual dress. I know I need to go dressier than jeans, but I don't want to be too overdressed. Ideas?

Janet Bennett Kelly: How about a little black dress in wool, which you can accessorize with a necklace and a cuff and some snazzy shoes?


Makeup: I just started wearing makeup myself, and what I did was go to Sephora. They will often do makeovers, but the staff can also help recommend different products that work for your skin tone too. I'm still terrible at picking out stuff for myself, but all I need is to go in and say, I need (fill in the blank), and they always pick out something that works for me.

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the chatter who's new to applying makeup, another neophyte recommends going to Sephora for guidance. Thanks for the tip.


Arlington, Va.: I picked my 19 year-old male cousin in the holiday gift exchange and he has asked for clothes, but has not been more specific. Can you tell me what the young folks are wearing these days? I think of him as a casual, funny T-shirt kind of guy.

Michelle Thomas: You might try scoping out the options at Rue 14 on 14th Street (in Pop's former space). The newish store offers an affordable selection of young, funky menswear from brands such as Original Penguin and Modern Amusement.


Virginia Beach, Va.: I was dismayed to read recently (on a different Post chat about Sarah Palin) that women who wear glasses shouldn't wear dangly earrings. I'm in my mid-60's, trying to become more fashionable, have to wear glasses, but love dangly earrings. What's the problem with wearing them, and are there ways that "rule" can be bent? Thoughts?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't think there's any hard and fast rule about not wearing dangling earrings with glasses. I'd say it's a case-by-case kind of thing. It depends on the kind of earrings and the glasses.


For Conundrum: Hi, I also prefer pants/T-shirts. To grow it up or make it more feminine, I like to wear jackets with a defined waist and jewelry. My signature is eye-catching earrings. Another factor is wearing tops that are T-shirt style but in silk or other higher end materials.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Here's a suggestion for the chatter who wanted to ratchet up to a more feminine look but was shying away from skirts in favor of pants. A jacket with a defined waist, eye-catching earrings and femme T-shirts are all excellent suggestions.


Burke, Va.: Inaugural Ball tips: Don't wear a coat you can't bear to lose (in crowded years, this can particularly be an issue, even with good coat checks). Wear fab shoes you won't be tempted to remove -- they might disappear in the crush. Small shoulder-hung bag, and only bring ID, cash and one credit card that's absolutely necessary. A fab experience that should be savored, but "elegant" won't be the operative word.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Sounds like tips from someone who has been to inaugural balls before. Take note!


Pregnant help: What's a somewhat newly pregnant (9 weeks with second baby) going to wear on Christmas eve (nothing too fancy -- just Mass and dinner)? Don't want people to know yet but some bottoms are getting tighter...

Michelle Thomas: How about a looser dress? That's how the celebs fend off the "baby bump"-obsessed tabloids! Look for a style with some tummy-concealing room around the middle, like a mod, '60s-inspired shift dress.


Arlington, Va.: My mid-20s, career-oriented roommate is working on updating her wardrobe and finding her own style. I'd like to buy her a book on style for a holiday present, and would appreciate a recommendation on something classic for a Washington working woman. Thanks!

Michelle Thomas: I really like Isaac Mizrahi's "How to Have Style", which offers (mostly) realistic and easy-to-follow tips for developing style.


Silver Spring, Md.: I just bought this gorgeous Karen Millen silver dress that has elaborate gold beading near the neck line and the hem, and I'm at a loss as to to what types of shoes and jewelry would be appropriate. Silver shoes? Dark shoes? Should I ignore the gold beading and try to play off the silver more? I'm just worried that I'm going to end up looking like a bunch of tinsel...

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, there, Silver Spring,

Because the dress has jewelry built in, so to speak, I'd say you really don't need to wear any. Maybe just as simple pair of stud earrings, if anything. And when you're looking for shoes, I'd see if you can find a strappy sandal in silver.


vintage dress: Eek - if it were me, I'd return the dress with a thank you note and a genuine request to pay for cleaning. I would not want to be responsible for choosing a cleaner and risking any damage. Let the owner choose and then pay for it (or take her out to dinner or something). My two cents!

Michelle Thomas: Yeah, not a bad idea to just let the owner choose. Or at least ask her for her preferred cleaner.


Leggings in Alexandria: Hi Ladies,

I was trying to find leggings, not your tights kind of leggings but leggings that are almost like those stretch jeans/pants from back in the day; any suggestions?

Love your chats!

Michelle Thomas: Banana Republic currently sells knit leggings that are thicker than tights and completely opaque, plus they are available in cropped and full lengths.


Rockville, Md.: My college student daughter needs a "going somewhere nice" outfit. She has mostly jeans and T-shirts, but needs something for events like a dinner out with the grandparents. Can you suggest something modern but acceptable to multiple generations? She's 5'11 and thin, so can wear most styles.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Take a look at places like J. Crew and Ginger and Luna in Bethesda, which all carry dresses that would qualify as nice, going-out attire.


Speaking of eyeglasses: What kinds of eyeglasses are in style these days? I usually wear contacts, but also wear prescription eyeglasses on occasion. I want something modern, but not too trendy, since I only replace them every couple of years. I'm 32.

Janet Bennett Kelly: It's more a question of what looks good on your face -- in terms of shape and coloring. Take a look at designer glasses from Oliver Peoples and Anne et Valentin, Theo and Face, which are very in vogue now. Lower prices and similar styles can be found at See in Georgetown.


Cleveland, Ohio: What do you recommend I wear under a thin, sheer, off-white merino sweater? A cami will show through no matter the color (even neutral), so should it be as invisible as possible or would a big contrast (like darker pink or black) look fashion forward? Or, should I try to find a tight-fitting shirt that matches the sweater's 3/4 sleeves to wear under?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Do you want to wear the sweater for a dressy occasion? If so, I'd look for something to put under it with a little sparkle. I have a very sheer, off-white sweater that I wear with a gold sleeveless, v-neck underneath for dressy occasions and pair with a knit sleeveless turtleneck for something more casual.


S. Rockville, Md.: I'm trying to upgrade my wardrobe for the office in 2009. I've found I like a number of items from Geoffrey Beene (pants, shirts, even socks). Is there any place a guy can get them locally, without breaking the budget?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I was just in Boston at Filene's Basement, and I noticed that they carried Geoffrey Beene accessories. I didn't have the chance to find out whether they carried pants or shirts, but it might be worth a trip to your nearest Filene's to see if they by any chance stock them.


Rockville, Md.: Hi there. Two questions: first, is it not right to wear gray sweaters with jeans? For some reason, it just looks funny to me even though I'd like to do it.

Second, where's a good resource for patterned tights? Thanks!

Michelle Thomas: You can absolutely wear a gray sweater with jeans. I'd pair it with a dark denim wash, though. As for tights -- you can find patterned tights at any department store from Target to Filene's to Bloomingdale's. Welovecolors.com is a great online tights store, though it's a better resource for (duh) colors.


Cleaning vintage dress: I second the offer to pay for the cleaning, but letting the owner choose the location. She may already have a great cleaner that she uses and trusts. I used to sell vintage clothing, and some of the velvet used back in the 1960s was silk velvet and needs special care. You really don't want to risk ruining the dress. I'm sure the owner would appreciate a sense of caution.

Michelle Thomas: Another chatter's opinion. I'm in agreement.


Nashville, Tenn.: What are your thoughts on shoes with a "Little Black Dress". I love a punch of color -- something that draws attention. My husband is sometimes wary of my ideas.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I think a punch of color for shoes with a black dress would look great. That said, not all colors will work. I think you're best to stay away from too much contrast!


S. Rockville, Md.: My wife is interested in upgrading her wardrobe. She used to work in the field, needing jeans and the like, and now she's headed toward more office work as she climbs the corporate ladder. Suggestions on brands and designers of ladies' trousers and pants that might be able to work for the office with occasional trips to the field? Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Several options: Theory, Vince, Club Monaco all carry clothes that are tailored and will work for the office.


For the Makeup Help Seeker: I love Mac make-up! It is really nice make-up and for the quality, not outrageously priced. I have also always found their make-up artists to be really helpful from everything from finding simple work make-up to helping me put together a dramatic smokey eye or red lip. While many of the make-up artists definitely err on the dramatic side for their own make-up, they are great with helping you find your own personal style without pressuring you to love/buy everything you try. An added bonus, the actual Mac stores (not dept. store counters though) keep a record of what you buy so when you run out of something you can go in the store, look it up and replace it easily!

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the chatter new to makeup, here's a vote for MAC makeup and makeup artists.


Alexandria, Va.: To the poster wearing earrings with glasses: choose what to emphasize. Just like you don't want to wear dark smoky eyes and dramatic lipstick (it's too much), don't wear attention-getting earrings with attention-grabbing glasses. On days when I wear frames that blend in, I can wear earrings that pop.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks for that comment, Alexandria. Good advice for the glasses wearer who likes dangling earrings.


Arlington, Va.: I have a tights question. I am going to a holiday party on Saturday and I am wearing a fitted, black, Nanette Lepore dress that has a retro, 1940s feel to it. I want to pair it with peep-toed blue/silver pumps. Can I wear black fishnets with this combination, or will the fishnets look strange with the peep toe?

Michelle Thomas: It's hard to say without seeing the outfit, but I would probably avoid fishnets not because of the peep-toe but because the blue and silver pumps already sound pretty flashy. I'd try a more subdued pair of tights.


Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks for chatting today. We wish you all the best for a happy holiday! As for the goodies, the Pur Minerals eyeshadow palette goes to the chatter from Burke, Va., who provided a bunch of tips on dressing for inaugural balls, and the Crabtree & Evelyn India Hicks bath milk to the chatter who recommended jackets with defined waists and jewelry to achieve a more femme look. Send your name and address to trendspotter@washpost.com, and we'll get the spoils right out to you. 'Til next time.


Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company