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Monday, Jan. 19, 11:00 a.m. ET

Last-Minute Inaugural Fashion Tips

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Janet Bennett Kelly
Fashion and Beauty Editor, washingtonpost.com
Monday, January 19, 2009; 11:00 AM

washingtonpost.com Fashion and Beauty Editor Janet Bennett offered last-minute fashion and beauty tips for gala goers.

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She was online Monday, Jan. 19, at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions.

A transcript follows.

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Janet Bennett Kelly: We've got less than 24 hours before Barack Obama takes office! Set to celebrate? Any last-minute fashion questions, comments on the upcoming festivities? Let's hear them!

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Alexandria, Va.: Help! Two dresses to choose from -- one is a silvery navy shutter pleat dress. The other is royal blue with a pleated taffeta criss-cross bodice and a georgette skirt. Both look good on, and I can't decide.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Lucky you, Alexandria, to have two dresses to choose from. I'd pick the one you're most comfortable wearing. It's no doubt going to be a long night, and if you have to commute by Metro, say, you'll be a much happier camper if you feel free to move around in your dress. By the way, that goes for shoes, too.

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St. Paul: Hi Janet -- Thanks for taking questions today. Here's something I've always wanted to know: when it's 30 degrees out, how do the important people (i.e., Barack and Michelle Obama) manage not to freeze in their chic topcoats and such? Or are they freezing but just really good at not showing it? I loved the brown ensemble Mrs. Obama wore yesterday, but it didn't look very warm, and unless they were very, very thin, it didn't appear that she had many layers (something ingrained in us here in chilly MN).

Janet Bennett Kelly: Good question, St. Paul. I think Michelle Obama looked fab but was wondering the same thing -- how did she stay warm?

I don't know for sure, but perhaps behind the plexiglas at the concert, there was a heater?

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Washington, D.C.: How do you look chic when you have to bundle up and walk and stand in the crowd for 8 hours, take the Metro, etc.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Not an easy thing to do. Something's gotta give -- like high heels, for example. Stilettos make legs look great, but practically speaking, they're a no-no if you're limousine-less. I also would wear a short dress rather than long. It's easier to get around in, and you'll have far more occasions to wear it again.

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Is an updo necessary?: I'm going to the VA ball tonight and won't have time to get my hair done. Will most women have formal updos, or can I do something quick to my hair to achieve a more elegant style (I have long straight hair.). Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: If you happened to see the Golden Globes, many of the most fashionable celebs wore their hair up in what I'd call casual updos, with hair falling softly around their faces. If this is a look you think you can achieve with your hair, go for it.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Janet -- quick question. I'm attending the Youth Ball, which is technically black tie. Would it be okay to wear a knee-length dress? I don't have any long dresses and assume the Youth Ball will be generally more casual than some of the others. Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: By all means wear your knee-length dress. Although some might lynch me for saying this, I don't think black tie has to mean long gown.

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Alexandria, Va.: I just got a last minute invite to one of the official balls, going as the guest of a friend. I literally have nothing to wear that might resemble a formal gown. Where would you suggest I go to try to find something? I'm petite, not super skinny though, and totally concerned that I won't be able to find a gown that isn't way too long. Luckily, I have today off, so want to try to find something while I can still drive around town!

Janet Bennett Kelly: How about looking for something vintage at Annie Creamcheese in Georgetown or Remix on Capitol Hill? My other thought would be to go to Filene's Basement or Loehmann's, which have branches across the street from each other in Friendship Heights.

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Shoes: Hey Janet, is it totally inappropriate to wear flats with my gown? I think it will work out length-wise, to not really see them. I hesitate to wear heels when there's no telling how far we'll be walking, but I also don't want to look under-dressed.

Janet Bennett Kelly: This is a time when flats make the most sense. And if you don't even see them, even better!

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Baltimore, Md.: I will be attending one of the many inaugural balls tomorrow night and I was just wondering if it is too early to wear a colorful print gown. My other option is black, of course. Thank you.

Janet Bennett Kelly: There's bound to be a sea of black dresses, so, yes, by all means, wear a colorful print dress. How refreshing that will look. Did you happen to see Maggie Gylenhaal's dress at the Golden Globes? It was a one-shoulder print gown, and she just looked great.

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Georgetown: Stockings with French heel and seams and a garter belt or stockings with seams and a Cuban heel?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Duh. Like seemed stockings, but what's the difference between a French heel and a Cuban heel. As long as neither one is high, I'd say you'd be safe with either.

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Manassas, Va.: Are there any celebrations that are on the casual side? I only own a pantsuit and can't afford to dress up without a job. Is a nice pantsuit sufficient?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Last week a chatter mentioned that the Western balls have a more casual dress requirement.

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Fairfax, Va.: I realize you are here to advise the lucky few who will be attending formal events, but I will be going to the Mall on Tuesday (no ticket) to watch the swearing in, and have been thinking about what to wear on a more practical level.

This may sound corny, but in addition to layered, warm clothing, I have a suggestion: bring a handkerchief or tissues, just as you would for a wedding. Just like with a wedding, you think you won't cry, but then there you are. If you teared up at 11 p.m. on November 4, my advice is, bring a hankie for use at noon on January 20.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks, Fairfax. That's excellent advice. I teared up last night watching the concert on HBO.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Should the first lady wear pantyhose?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hmmm. I think that's entirely her call.

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Flats with a short dress?: What are the rules (if any) about wearing flats with a shorter cocktail dress? Will I look ridiculous if I go this route? I've never done flats with a cocktail dress before but I am also dreading the long walk from the metro to the ball I'm attending.

Janet Bennett Kelly: For long walks and Metro wear, flats are a defnite. Also, I think they happen to look good with a short cocktail dress. I'm particularly fond of flats with some kind of sparkle, which help amp up the dressiness factor.

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Last-minute ball attender again: Thanks for the recs on the stores. I've never been to Annie Creamcheese and vintage doesn't always work with my shape/height, but I may try a run through Filene's. Are there any colors or styles that are particularly hot right now? I haven't purchased a dress in quite awhile.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Jewel tones -- purples, rubies, emeralds -- are in vogue at the moment. However, the most important thing when looking for a dress is what color and style flatter your figure!

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Rockville, Md.: My question is: can I wear sandals with hose? I have never ever liked this look, but I have a plum-colored dress that I was planning to wear with silver stiletto sling-back sandals. I thought maybe I could get away without hose, but am now concerned with both freezing and maybe getting blisters if I don't wear hose. Is it totally gauche to wear hose with open toed shoes?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, Rockville,

I must admit I'm not a fan of sandals with hose. But given the choice between freezing and not ...

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Jewelry conundrum: Hi Janet, I have a lovely purple gown that I'll be wearing to one of the balls tomorrow night. It is strapless and I am trying to figure out what sort of jewelry to wear -- necklace, bracelet, earrings, rings are all in contention. I don't want to wear too much or too little, though. Any failsafe tip on which pieces should generally be worn together and what might be too much? They all generally coordinate with each other and the dress. Oh, and I'll be wearing my hair up. Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: I'd wear either a statement necklace or earrings, but not both. You don't want to distract attention from your dress with too much bling going on. Then wear a bracelet that coordinates with either the necklace or earrings. Have fun!

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Falls Church, Va.: Hey Janet! I will be wearing my LBD to one of the balls tomorrow night. Any tips on how to dress it up so that I stand out in a crowd of other LBDs?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Jewelry, Falls Church, jewelry! Sparkly shoes dress up a look, too, and decorative combs or clips in your hair. Feathers on shoes and combs are a hot look now, and there's no better excuse to wear them than a ball.

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Fashion so far: Janet, I am not among the lucky ones who will be attending a ball, but wondered: what have you seen so far this weekend in terms of fashion? Anything interesting or unusual? Also, do you know which designer outfitted Michelle Obama for the concert yesterday? I thought she looked great! It was also nice to see that Sasha and Malia weren't wearing outfits that matched the rest of the family for a change.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't know who designed Michelle Obama's ensemble yesterday, but I so agree with you that she looked the epitome of chic. And I adored the little girls in their white coats!

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Michelle's dress?: Is there any word on what Michelle Obama will be wearing either to the swearing in or the balls? Has a designer been announced? When does that information usually come available? I've been dying to see if she'll go with an old school designer or if she'll push the envelope with someone younger and fresher.

Janet Bennett Kelly: That info so far seems to be under deep cover. I also can't wait to see what she'll wear. As far as designers go, she plays the field, from Narciso Rodriguez to Mario Pinto to Thakoon to J. Crew. Looking forward to tomorrow night when the secret will be revealed.

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Belmont, N.C.: This is not about YOU! Take my advice... You'll never be the best dressed or the worst dressed at any event. This is about the country and a new beginning after the nonsense of the last eight years. Go, have fun, and be comfortable and warm.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Good advice, Belmont. And, furthermore, the only dress we all care about is Michelle Obama's.

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Leg Warmers..: Hi ladies,

It may have been an '80s fashion trend, but dancers know that legwarmers really help. And they slip off easily and can be tucked into the sleeves of your coat with your scarf on arrival. Even acrylic ones make an amazing difference.

They help over jeans, too, if you plan to be out for the swearing in and/or parade.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Leg warmers that can be slipped off after arrival. Sounds practical to me.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Janet, I received a last-minute invitation to the Neighborhood Ball. I do not own a tux and no local stores are renting at this time. Do you feel that a dark charcoal suit with a black tie would suffice? Thanks.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Would you consider buying a tux? There could be more formal events in your future. If you don't want to go there, though, you can surely get away with your proposed solution of dark charcoal suit and black tie.

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Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks, everyone. Enjoyed your great questions. Have a ball at the balls. See you back here again on Tuesday, Feb. 3 at 11.

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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.


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