Talking Fashion: Advice on What to Wear and Where to Find It

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Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly E. Thomas
Fashion and Beauty Editor, washingtonpost.com and Style Staffer
Tuesday, April 21, 2009; 11:00 AM

Janet Bennett Kelly, washingtonpost.com fashion and beauty editor, and Style's Holly Thomas answered your fashion questions on Tuesday, April 21.

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Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, everyone, and welcome to Talking Fashion this fine Tuesday morning in April. Holly and I would love to know about your fashion dilemmas and how you're coping with shopping in the economic downturn. As always, we've got prizes: a Crabtree & Evelyn cream body wash and a Flirt! Cosmetics fast-defining mascara.

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Pennsylvania: I wrote in a few weeks ago about what to wear to my mother's burial. After the chat, I went shopping in my closet and found an outfit I'd forgotten I had: a Carole Little skirt and loose jacket in a flowery pattern in camel and turquoise (there's also some black, but not much). It will be light, comfortable, and pretty. And it's cotton, so baby spit-ups won't be a problem. (My fashion accessory du jour is a spit-up cloth.)

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions and for taking my question seriously and not making me feel shallow for asking it.

Janet Bennett Kelly: My dear Pennsylvania, thank you for having the courage to ask the question. You're not the only one who has struggled with what to wear on an occasion like this, and I feel sure you helped our other readers who shied away from asking. Appreciate your sense of humor about the spit-up cloth being your accessory du jour!

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In a fashion rut, D.C.: Where can a guy in his mid-30's find shirts that cross over from day to night? I usually wear button downs and slacks, but I'd like some shirts with subtle, funky details that aren't too crazy for the office, but can fit in at a bar after work. Can I find clothes like that in D.C., or should I just take a shopping trip to N.Y.?

Holly Thomas: Unfortunately, three great men's shops that carried just what you're looking for closed in the past year or so (Mexx, District Line and Kuhlman, all in Georgetown). For stylish button-downs, I'd try Club Monaco and maybe Sisley. You might also have some luck at Lost Boys in Georgetown and For the Greater Good, both of which carry funky, hard-to-find men's apparel, shoes and accessories. FTGG has a blog that showcases new arrivals -- link is below.

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washingtonpost.com: For the Greater Good

Holly Thomas: For the Greater Good's blog ...

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Alexandria: Hi, ladies!

I have two sweaters, one cashmere, that have small holes in them (one hole in each) is there a place I can take them to be mended? These chats are great, thanks.

Janet Bennett Kelly: There's a guy who used to live in the area and owned the Parkway Custom Cleaning stores in Chevy Chase and Silver Spring. He has a Website (www.clothingdoctor.com). I recall that he once gave me a contact about mending holes in sweaters. Check out his site; you can send him an e-mail or call him.

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Folsom, Calif.: As a 70-something, it's getting harder and harder to find clothes that are flattering. Most styles are geared for the younger set, but I don't want to look like a "teeny-bopper." I don't have the figure anymore...darn!

For me, short (above the elbow) sleeves, skirts (above the knee), anything form-fitting is out. Gotta disguise the bad parts, but don't want to look like an old lady, either.

Do I have to design and make my own clothes? Thank you for any suggestions.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, there, Folsom, I think you have to look for a designer that makes clothes that work for your figure. I don't know if you like Eileen Fisher, but her line might work for you. Lafayette 148 also does a more conservative line that has a modern vibe but is def. not teeny-bopper.

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Arlington: Holly,

Sunday's Style and Arts had two interesting articles. On page 1, the first black Disney princess. What a great way to seamlessly include black children into that children's world and make it seem perfectly natural. Then, on Page 6, street style, that included five slender women, ranging in age from 18 to 23 -- apparently no one over that age looked stylish on a "chilly morning day, with a sunny afternoon, and evening downpour." It would have been a great way to include the majority of the population of women, as if they were real people too.

washingtonpost.com: A Fairy Tale Beginning (The Washington Post, April 19, 2009)

Street Style: Look Both Ways (The Washington Post, April 19, 2009)

Holly Thomas: Thanks for reading on Sunday! For the Street Style feature, we snapped the most fashionable people we saw over the course of a Friday in Georgetown, looking for personal style and a sense of being put together without trying too hard. As we move around and outside the city each month, we aim to showcase our area's stylish residents, keeping in mind that style isn't limited by age or body type.

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Ellicott City: Is it just me or is there a lot less to choose from in the stores now? I hear about how the stores are struggling with the economy, but over the last few months I've gone on a few trips for specific items (dress for a wedding), and have really found a poor selection. Seems like the stores aren't stocking as much (Ann Taylor's floorspace is huge now), and what they have is ick -- and they're not bringing in new stuff as fast. Anyone else notice this?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I have certainly noticed that the merchandise selection is thinner in just about every boutique or department store I go into. It's an economic reality that stores could not afford to buy as much because they didn't want to be stuck with a lot of merchandise they couldn't sell. So, we're left with a lot less choice. They'll also be slower to put things on sale than they were this past winter.

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Wheaton, Md.: Where can I go for excellent eyebrow work (either threading or waxing/tweezing or something else)?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I recently had a good experience with the Elizabeth Arden Red Door salon in Chevy Chase. I went in to have airbrush makeup done. Isabelle, the cosmetician I was working with, suggested she sculpt my eyebrows a little, which she did, to good effect. She said she prefers to tweeze because she can be more precise!

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Washington, D.C.: Can you explain the cuffed-to-flood-pants menswear look that is popping up all over (including this Sunday's style section)? Has Thom Browne finally convinced people that bare ankles are cool?

Holly Thomas: Maybe Thom's influence is finally trickling down, or maybe it's the dandy effect spurred on by the "Gossip Girl" boys. Regardless, I happen to love the cuffed-pants look, when it's pulled off effortlessly, and I think the resurgence of the trend is a result of guys having very few options when it comes to pants -- jeans, khakis or shorts. Boring! I applaud the guys who branch out and try something new with their everyday look.

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Clifton, Va.: Guy looking for shirts, try Nordstrom's online and the Tyson's store which has the best selection of button-down shirts for work and after work. Other Nordstrom stores just don't have the selection.

Holly Thomas: A tip for the chatter looking for stylish shirts ...

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White Plains, Md.: I am in the process of losing weight and don't want to have to keep purchasing clothes over and over again. What trends should I be embracing for the upcoming summer?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I would recommend not buying a lot until you've gotten your weight down to a stable place. In the meantime, though, do accessorize. I love the colorful, lightweight scarves I'm seeing all over, wide and skinny belts to cinch in jackets and a pair of gladiator sandals or wedges are all smart buys for the summer that you can find at chains like J Crew and Urban Outfitters and at local stores such as Carbon, Lettie Gooch, Betsy Fisher, Urban Chic, etc.

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Van Ness-UDC: Hi there. I'm looking to expand my wardrobe, but I'm on a budget. I try as much as possible to buy staples from my usual stores (J. Crew and BR mostly) when they're on sale, but I would love to be able to get a few (or even more) decent quality items from secondhand stores. Do you guys have some suggestions for good places to start that are in the metro area?

Holly Thomas: I've had very good luck at Second Time Around in Georgetown and Current Boutique in Clarendon, both of which usually have an array of high-end labels at very reasonable prices. Chatters, any other recommendations?

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I'm writing to give kudos to Nordstrom's: I'm 4'11" tall, size 8 on the bottom, size 12 on top (34 G!) and Nordstrom's had a ball gown that not only fits me, it makes me look like a million bucks and cost only $150.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Congratulations to you and to Nordstrom. It's so great when you find something you love and is perfect for you!

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Re: eyebrows: Lance at BlueMercury is excellent.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Yes, many folks are loyal to Lance!

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Aberdeen, Md.: What should I wear for the upcoming dance in my school? I'm a guy.

Holly Thomas: I'm guessing you're a high school student ... so I'd say go with a clean, pressed button-down shirt and a pair of flat-front trousers, if you have them. Don't forget a belt, and if you own/can borrow a nice tie (no piano-key ties, unless you can't resist), that's always a nice touch. Just make sure you're comfortable, and have fun!

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NY: Do you have any recommendation for the 'parentheses' around the mouth? I'm line-free otherwise, but the darkening and 'receding' of that area bothers me when I look in the mirror. Is it just aging and nothing we can do about it?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Other than something like skin-filling injections (Restylane, etc.), there's not a whole lot you can do. But you can certainly camouflage the receding with a good concealer. Touche Eclat by Yves Saint Laurent gets raves from lots of people; also Laura Mercier makes a good cream concealer.

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Janet Bennett Kelly: Would the petite woman who found the amazing dress at Nordstom mind sending us a link to a picture of it?

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Bronzer: I have an extremely fair complexion (think Amy Adams) and accordingly, I'm obsessive about sunscreen. Unfortunately, that translates to pasty-looking legs in the spring/summer. Can you recommend any bronzers, or maybe a shimmery lotion, for my (lack of) skin color? I don't do the self-tanner route, because its always streaky, I HATE the smell, and I really like having pale skin. I just want to look luminescent, not like Emily the Strange.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Jergens wins my vote for giving you a glow, not streaks of yellow or orange. Try the one for fair skin.

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Orange, Conn.: For the person with the cashmere sweater holes, I have used Knit Alteration and Design (knitalteration.com) many times, and they do outstanding work. They also tailor knitted garments. You'll have to wait a few months to get the items back, but it's worth it.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks, Orange. That's a great tip for those of us who love our cashmere sweaters!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi ladies!

I just bought a pair of stirrup leggings, and I'm starting to wonder if I made a mistake...

How the heck am I supposed to wear them?

Thanks. Love your columns/discussions!

Holly Thomas: Talk about a divisive issue! I think a lot of people will probably cringe at the combination of "stirrup" and "leggings" in the same sentence and (given the 80s) rightfully so. But I spotted some very chic women in New York last winter sporting leggings with a stirrup bottom with super-chunky, strappy platform sandals. Just make sure they hug your legs all the way to the ankle, and wear them under a tunic or long blazer (ie, not as pants).

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Washington, D.C.: The women at Ibiza Day Spa on 24th between M and Pennsylvania are so talented when it comes to eyebrows! It is affordable and you will never go anywhere else. Try Ibiza's threading if you're sensitive.

Holly Thomas: Another eyebrow suggestion ...

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Baltimore, Md.: Good morning. Any suggestions on where to find clothes for a petite teenager (size 0)? I need to find a dress to wear to a June wedding.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't know if they carry clothes dressy enough for a wedding, but you might try Banana Republic, which has a store devoted to petites in Tysons Corner Center in Va.; and another one in Reston. Too far?

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Manassas, Va.: There is no way around it, I'm an apple shape. My waist and hips are close in numbers. Pants are a major hassle. The style now is pants that sit below the waist and that tends to accentuate my stomach. Then if I buy pants to fit my waist, the legs and hips are huge. Any suggestions? Also can I please throw out a suggestion for longer women's tees? I wear my husband's because the last thing I want is my stomach to show. Sometimes it is very difficult to dress your age and body type and still be style conscious. Thanks.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Here's a possibility -- if you find a pair of pants that you like, take it to a tailor who can alter them to give you the fit you want.

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Silver Spring: For those of us hitting the 70's, Eileen Fisher is indeed a beautiful line of clothing, but pricey. On a retirement budget but still well made, there's Chico's and Talbots. Also, Talbots classics comes in petite, misses, and women's sizes.

Holly Thomas: Good recommendation for Talbots and Chico's. For higher-end lines like Eileen Fisher, Anne Klein and Liz Claiborne, you might consider signing up for the mailing lists at places like Filene's Basement, Stein Mart and Loehman's -- that way you'll know when the brands you like are arriving in stores.

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The Nordstrom's Dress: Was this one. Due to my height, it comes down to mid-calf, making it much more formal looking than on the model. It's got little rhinestone buttons on the elbow sleeves.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thank you for sending the link. That is a lovely dress! Enjoy wearing it.

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Washington, D.C.: I have spent the past few years building a wardrobe for all occasions. However, when it comes to actually pulling together a "look" I completely fail! I search for "lookbooks" online quite frequently (shopbop, Saks, etc.). Can you recommend any more guidance?

Holly Thomas: There are some excellent street style blogs that might help in terms of inspiration -- look at The Sartorialist, Face Hunter, Street Peeper and Garance Dore just to get started, and note what strikes you about the outfits you like. Then I'd recommend taking an afternoon to pull together as many complete "looks" as you can, and jot down the individual pieces. That way, when the looks you're trying to pull together last-minute aren't working out, you have a few standbys that you can rely on. As a last resort, a personal shopper/closet stylist might be able to help.

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Washington, D.C.: I mostly wear very simple jewelry like pearls or diamond studs, but I'd like to shake it up with more fun and dramatic pieces. The only problem is I worry about whether or not things match/go together. Suggestions?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I tend to be the same way about my jewelry choices, but lately I've been wanting to push the envelope as well. I'm loving big gold or silver hoops -- they go with everything. I was just in Tabandeh (in Mazza Gallerie) this weekend, and they had so many beautiful earrings -- and other jewelry. Check it out.

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For Sweater Repair: I got a moth hole in my treasured Ireland wool sweater (very rare color); I sent it here and voila -- perfect. Yes, they're in Washington state, but VERY easy to deal with.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Another option for sweater repair. Thanks very much for the info.

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Tanning lotions: Dove Energy Glow moisturizers are great and gradual. The color looks natural. You don't go from alabaster porcelain to cheese and macaroni orange overnight. Also the scent is very light. I am Irish, pale with freckles. My skin burns, then tans. This moisturizer gives me the post-burn tan/glow without the nasty sunburn.

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the chatter in search of a glow, not streaks, this chatter gives a thumbs-up to Dove Energy Glow moisturizers.

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Washington, D.C.: I love the Street Style type of articles that highlight fashion on people on the street, but I, too, was disappointed in the sameness of the outfits. It might have been the focus of the article, but not one of the outfits seemed appropriate to anyone other than a college student who has a lot of freedom in what they choose to wear. Can you maybe focus on different locations in the future? I'd love to see fashionable outfits appropriate for a somewhat conservative workplace, or fashionable moms on the playground with their kids.

Holly Thomas: Thanks for reading! Our team liked Carolina Zalduondo's sharp blazer and dressy top and thought it could transition easily to an office setting. And Irving Juleus's blazer and knit tie felt work-appropriate but still fun. We will be bouncing around the city and surrounds in the future, though, hoping to catch people from all walks of life.

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Not clothing purchasing, but: I have a pile of summer clothes I want to donate. They skew casual, so I can't give them to Dress for Success or anything similar. Where can I drop off clothing in D.C.? I usually do consignment, but I am feeling that donating would be better overall, especially if I can also get a tax deduction.

Janet Bennett Kelly: There are organizations like Purple Heart and Value Village that will pick up from your home.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you recommend some brands for flowy, summery dresses (but not maxi dresses)? I love the style at Anthropologie, but I am wide around the stomach area and small on top (about 34-29-35), so most of their dresses are way too big in the bust. Is there anywhere else you could suggest?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I found some pretty summer dresses on the third floor of Saks Fifth Avenue (Chevy Chase) last weekend. They're by Hugo Boss, and they were on sale.

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St Paul, Minn.: I'm 52, 5'2" and about 133 lbs. Recently lost about 15 lbs through exercising and eating more carefully. I like my clothes but I'd like to make a change to a more stylish and form-fitting look, on a budget of course! I like shopping at consignment shops. I work in a professional position for a nonprofit, so I do have some flexibility in what I wear. Do you have suggestions of brands I might consider?

Holly Thomas: Congratulations on your new healthy lifestyle! The next time you hit the consignment shops, keep an eye out for brands such as Nanette Lepore and Rebecca Taylor for feminine, work-friendly separates. Also look for dresses by Calvin Klein and BCBG Max Azria, which tend to be a bit more form-fitting without being overly revealing.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm 34 and nearly never go beyond black shoes-socks-pants-jacket and brightly-colored top. Looks fine, but I'm in a rut. I'd like to inject more color in my footwear and wardrobe, but I'm scared -- any suggestions on mixing and matching without looking like an overgrown Punky Brewster? Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: When the rest of your wardrobe is neutral or black, you've got plenty of room to experiment with colorful shoes, handbags and jewelry. A tote in a bright neon color is a great way to add spark to an outfit. I saw a large turquoise hobo at Cusp that fit the bill.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have a white denim jacket I love. 1. Is it out of style? 2. If not, can I wear it with dark blue jeans?

Janet Bennett Kelly: No, I don't think it's out of style, especially when we're seeing a lot of military, Sgt. Pepper-style jackets out there. I wouldn't wear it with dark blue jeans, though. I'd pop it on over a flowy dress or over a tank top and full skirt.

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Metro Center: Shopping is difficult for me. I want to wear cool clothes and cute shoes, but... I'm fat, and I have big feet.

Seriously, I'm a size 18 and that can make it tough to find clothing that isn't ugly polyester print. And my feet are 10E, so nobody has shoes that will fit me.

Where should I look? (Shoes are currently more urgent than clothing.)

washingtonpost.com: Look through some of our previous fashion chats (just type "fashion" into our site search engine and the Talking Fashion chats will come up) -- this issue has come up before and chatters have had some great suggestions for plus-sized but cute clothes. The shoe question has not been discussed recently, though - Michele

Janet Bennett Kelly: As far as the shoes go, have you looked at Zappos.com? They carry extra-wide widths and big sizes -- up to 13.

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Pants!: I have a similar problem -- large thighs, a biggish bottom. While tailoring is the simplest option, I suggest heading to the largest department store around and plan on spending an afternoon trying on different pants (brands, cuts, the whole thing). I have great luck with true wide-legged pants (here's hoping they stay in style for a while). Really, it's just a matter of being patient and figuring out the cut that works for you. And if you can take along a friend to serve as runner you'll cut down the time; just make sure you buy him/her lunch for their effort. The next time you go shopping you can narrow down your options more quickly so it will be less painful.

And repeat this as needed: you're not fat/shaped weird/not normal, you're just not finding the right pants for you. Good luck!

Janet Bennett Kelly: That's the attitude! I couldn't agree more that it's a matter of trial and error finding the cut that works for your figure. And then once you have, the process takes way less time.

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Philly, Pa.: Could you settle a nagging fashion question? I'm 5'1" -- on the short side. I work in a professional environment, but as an alternative to slacks, trousers, and skirts, could I wear capris as well? I've tried on many in the stores (love Ann Taylor for their petite sizes), but I still wonder if capris in general are absolute "no-no" for short/petite women because they are too casual and doesn't flatter petite proportions. I also remember reading about this fashion rule from "What not to wear."

Thanks and love your discussion!

Holly Thomas: I usually say if you love a particular look, you should try it. But in this case, capris are pretty near impossible to pull off in terms of proportions. Audrey Hepburn, at 5'7", rocked her slim black cigarette pants and looked effortless doing it -- but for anyone shorter or taller than Audrey, you risk throwing your silhouette out of proportion. Opt for wide-leg denim trousers, slim pants or a pencil skirt to change things up a bit, but if you absolutely can't resist the call of the capris, get a pair that end at the knee and save them for weekends.

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Kansas City, Mo.: Hello! Where can I find information on spring/summer fashion trends for plus-size women that include fashions which are reasonably-priced and won't have me looking like a big-ole frumpster? The stores mentioned here so far (Nordstrom, Chico's, Talbots) are out of my price range.

Thanks!

Holly Thomas: Have you tried New York & Company? The web site has a section devoted to spring and summer trends, prices seem very reasonable and they offer sizes from 0 to 18 ... happy hunting!

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White Pants for Work: Is this a fashion faux pas? I have a fear that wearing white pants with a blue jacket, a cute top and slingbacks will make me look like Thurston Howell, III.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't think it's a fashion faux pas at all, but if you feel self-conscious wearing it, then it might not be the best choice for you. Think about this, though: Ines de la Fressange, former muse at Chanel for Karl Lagerfeld, was recently photographed wearing just such a combo.

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Shoe Biz: Nordstrom and Naturalizer both carry larger shoe sizes. Go online for the best selection.

Holly Thomas: Two more suggestions from a chatter. And Barefoottess.com is a must-visit site for large sizes and wide widths.

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Beauty Secret: Thought I would share my favorite beauty secret: Estee Lauder's Advanced Night Repair Concentrate. It costs a fortune but I only need to use it several times a year. I can't attest to the anti-wrinkle aspect of it because I try not to look for fine lines. But, I can say that it works wonders in "healing" skin. With allergy season, I go through a box or more of tissues a week. Applying the serum at night means no more red, flaky, irritating skin around the nose and mouth.

Janet Bennett Kelly: We love hearing beauty secrets. Thanks for sending this tip about Estee Lauder's night repair concentrate! I can relate to the flaky, irritating skin during allergy season, and if this works, I'm all over it.

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Germantown, Md.: Need some help on finding a blazer that will fit. I wear a 48 or 50 suit jacket, depends on the label. I cannot find a casual blazer anywhere that fits me through the shoulders and chest; if I do happen to find one it's an XXXL and it hangs to my knees. Thanks.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't think this is an uncommon problem. I think your best bet would be to go to a department store and make use of their tailoring services or failing that, find a good tailor that can fit the blazer to your body.

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Speaking of consignment: Are there any stores in the area like Mustard Seed that will give you cash on the spot instead of waiting until the goods are sold and that will take non-designer clothing? I think they have a great business model, but I found the staff there too rude to bother going back, unfortunately.

Holly Thomas: You might try Junction on U Street -- if I remember correctly, I got cash on the spot for a few items I took there during the winter. Definitely call ahead of time and see if they're looking for/overstocked with anything specific.

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Glover Park: I love the look of flat shoes but I walk a lot and need something comfortable. Any suggestions of comfortable but stylish flats?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Cole Haan's Nike line makes comfortable and stylish flats; and Nordstrom carries a brand called Geox that also is designed for comfort.

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Los Angeles: Help! I just moved to L.A. from D.C. and I'm looking for some unique but inexpensive shopping areas to transition my wardrobe from D.C. to L.A. style. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Try the U Street neighborhood and Georgetown, to begin!

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For L.A...: Try some thrift stores...there's a store called Iguana in L.A. that has some really cute/cool finds. Also, just hit the malls. You're bound to find something.

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the person moving to L.A....

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Reston, Va.: For Germantown looking for a casual blazer--try Rochester Big and Tall (there's one on Connecticut at L). My husband just had great luck at Rochester. They don't do tailoring, but they will help you find a style that works for you. And if your garment does need tailoring, they'll tell you what to ask for.

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the guy in search of a blazer that fits, try Rochester Big and Tall. This chatter's husband has had success here.

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LA question: I think the poster was saying she moved to LA and wanted some help. At least that's how the question was worded so I thought the response kinda odd. If the poster is in LA, how can they get to U St or Gtown?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Sorry about that!

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Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks, everyone. Enjoyed all your great questions. And now for today's winners: The chatter who suggested Dove Energy Glow will receive the Crabtree & Evelyn cream body wash and the chatter who suggested Knit Alteration for repairing sweaters will receive the Flirt! mascara. Just send your names and addresses to fashion@washpost.com and we'll get those out to you. We'll see you back here in two weeks!

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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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