Talking Fashion: Party dresses for under $150, how to learn to knit and jeggings, yea or nay?

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Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas answered your fashion questions on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

You can find previous Talking Fashion Live Q&As here.


Janet Bennett Kelly: Good morning and welcome to Talking Fashion. A few things on my mind today -- first, did you happen to see Lindsay Lohan's collection for Emanuel Ungaro? What was supposed to be a boost for an ailing design house turned out to be a bust! Second, it may be worth a trip to NYC to see Jil Sander's new collection for Uniqlo -- great style at wallet-friendly prices. And third, reportedly, Zara is selling bags with swastikas on them. Shame on them. Thoughts, comments welcome. And, of course, we'd love to hear how you've solved any recent wardrobe or beauty dilemmas. As ever, we've got goodies for you -- Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleanser and a how-to book on knitting.


Boots, DC: Good morning,

I already own a pair of black and gray long tall, flat boots. I walk 2 miles to work, so walkability is key. I'd like to buy a pair of brown boots for this year. Should I go for a short pair or long? Camel colored and cowboy style, or chocolate brown and modern? I am so obsessed with boots that I'd like to buy both, but I need to pick one for budget reasons.

Also, could I wear my pair of brown boots with black? I saw someone do it last week and it looked really fresh. Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Good morning, Boots DC,

I'd say if you already own a pair of tall flat boots, pick that brown pair in a shorter style. I love cowboy boots but I also like the new booties that are everywhere. It depends what works best with your wardrobe. And by all means wear brown boots with black. It's an elegant combination.


Washington DC: Where is the best place to find unique and fun party dresses for under the $150 mark?

Holly Thomas: For under $150 and unique, I'd say your best option is to scour some of the District's vintage shops -- start with Treasury, Junction, Meeps and Mercedes Bien around U St/Adams Morgan, then maybe Remix on Capitol Hill and Annie Creamcheese in Georgetown. Going vintage is definitely the best way to find something no one else is wearing, and you'll probably walk away with some of that $150 still in your pocket.


DC - going to NYC: Help! I'm heading up to NYC this weekend to visit with friends from college. I'm having a hard time thinking of what to pack for both walking around during the day and going out at night. I'm in my mid-20s and going to dinner in the meatpacking district then dancing one of the nights. Thanks!

Holly Thomas: Ooh, a fall weekend in NYC ... lovely! I'd suggest a pair of flat black boots for walking around during the day, and you can always pair them with a short shift dress for dinner. If you're of the higher-the-better heels persuasion, maybe slip a pair of flats in your bag just in case -- those cobblestones in Meatpacking can be lethal to a pair of stilettos (and ankles).


Washington, D.C.: I'm at a job where I have to walk or stand throughout the day. Can you recommend some stylish flats to go with business attire?

Janet Bennett Kelly: One of my faves for flats is BCBG and BCBG Girls, both of which I've found at Bloomie's and Macy's. Some people rave about French Sole, which I've seen at Sassanova. Look at Nine West, too.


D.C.: I love the Balmain blazers with the overly-structured '80s shoulders. Is there anywhere I can find this style of blazer/jacket without the Balmain price tag?

Holly Thomas: Easy -- thrift stores! Check out some of the small charity resale shops and big thrift stores outside the District. I picked up a boys' Oscar de la Renta tuxedo jacket last fall at Unique Thrift in Falls Church and it was worth every penny of the $4 I paid for it. Judge the fit by the shoulders -- you can always belt it or have a tailor nip in the waist if the body is a little too roomy.


Pentagon City: Hi ladies. I'm new to DC and I'm hoping you can help. I'm looking for a tailor in DC or Arlington who does originally hemming on jeans using the method where you cut off the hem then sew it back on. I don't want someone who folds up the hem and sews it. I recently took a pair to the tailor recommended by the Denim Bar founder and he used the latter method. I think it looks sloppy. Any suggestions?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I just called Georgetown Valet in Dupont Circle, and they said they do original hems on jeans. The chain has other locations, including one in Arlington on Clarendon Blvd.


Washington, DC: Where is a good place to find a dress for my wife ? I would like something that would be good for both work (office) and casual social events.

Holly Thomas: Betsy Fisher in Dupont Circle is a good jumping-off point for work-friendly clothing that can transition to after-hours events, and the boutique is known for their customer service. I'd recommend calling ahead and giving the staff a rough idea of your wife's size and taste, then visit the store to see what they've found for you.


party dress under $150: I'd check out Loehmann's or Filene's Basement. Might have better luck than a thrift store.

Holly Thomas: A suggestion for the chatter looking for a party dress -- both options require a bit of digging, but you're bound to find something good between the two!


Laurel, MD: Ladies...I would love to wear a pair of white jeans with my new black booties and a black shirt. Too late in the year?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't think it's too late. The black boots and black shirt takes the white jeans into fall quite nicely. Good idea.


Want Boots!: Hello ladies! Thanks for introducing me to -- they stock Dansko boots! But I feel a little uncomfortable, still, with ordering a few shoes for sizing and then sending some back, even though they say free shipping both ways. I shouldn't feel uncomfortable, because it works, right??

Holly Thomas: I haven't heard any reports of problems (or had any myself) with free shipping through online shoe sites like Endless or Zappos, but one word of advice -- make sure you read the fine print and know the final date the shoes can be returned. Nothing worse than being stuck with the same shoe in three different sizes because you missed the return-by date.


Baltimore: Hi fashion gurus! I'm looking for shoes to wear on medical school interviews, something professional, comfortable enough for lots of walking, and, ideally, inexpensive (I'm on a student budget). Do you have any suggestions? many thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Is there a DSW near you? I'd go and see if I could find a pair of Cole Haans. They'd be both comfortable and professional-looking, and if you could find them at the right price, well that would be ideal.


Fairfax, VA: I am obsessed with dresses. Work dresses, party dresses, lounge-dresses...sometimes a gal doesn't want to wear pants. For the poster looking for modern, party dresses at under $150, try I haven't purchased anything from them yet so I can't speak to quality but I have a wish list 12 dresses long. They seem to highlight smaller, indie designers and their stock is fresh and a little funky. The most expensive dress I've found is $140. (I hate to give up this secret site I stumbled across but the more business they have, the more likely they'll stick around!)

Holly Thomas: A vote for ModCloth for party dresses ... thanks!


Silver Spring, Md.: Hey!

I received three (!) strands of vintage pearls from my recently departed mother-in-law. They are just lovely, large, with that glow they get from years of wear.

BUT - the clasps are broken. The pearls are strung on some kind of cord and individually knotted.

I'm in need of a recommendation for a place to take them that will repair the clasps. I probably don't want to have them all re-knotted as she didn't leave me a bundle of cash to go with the pearls.

Suggestions and recommendations?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, Silver Spring,

The pearls sound lovely. I recently took some pearls to Amethyst in Bethesda (on Bethesda Avenue), and they did a great job re-stringing them. They suggested that I put on a new clasp at the same time, and now I regret that I didn't. Anyway, that might be a good place to try because they're conscientious and not pricey.


Richmond, Va.: What's your opinion on 'jeggings'? (leggings that look like jeans) I was at a store recently and was considering a pair to wear underneath a cute tunic. I am in my mid 30s and the tunic is from Boden, so kind of preppy-mom wear. They looked comfortable which is why I paused, as that's usually a signal that I'm about to make a mistake.

Holly Thomas: Oh dear ... I'd hoped that "jeggings" would stay in the UK, where they originated, and never actually make it into stores in the US, but I saw a pair in H&M last week. They looked comfortable (let's be honest, when does an elastic waist NOT look comfortable?) but they gave me the creeps in a sort of "painted-on" meets "maternity jeans" way. I think you're better off with traditional leggings in an opaque cotton or a pair of skinny jeans that have a lot of stretch.


Vintage Clothes: I recently came into some vintage clothes and furs from family members. Is one of the vintage stores you mentioned a consignment store where they would buy the clothes I don't want?

Holly Thomas: I know that Junction on U Street buys items up-front (cash on the spot, not consignment) and I believe Treasury, Meeps and Annie Creamcheese do the same. It's standard practice to call ahead and give them an idea of what you have first, to gauge their interest and make sure you're not wasting a trip. If you have a ton of stuff, some owners will make arrangements to come to your home.


University Park, MD: Time to replace my winter coat! I prefer a full-length one but have seen very few online or in ads. Is full-length passe? Any tips on styles, colors, or shapes to watch for in a coat this season?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I think we're seeing a return to coats that are longer -- at least to the knee. The newest shape is the cocoon look as shown by high-end designers like Martin Grant. I've seen a range of styles and colors from lines like DKNY, Jones New York and Ellen Tracy at Bloomingdale's. Don't go too long, though; in my opinion, then, the coat tends to look like a bathrobe.


In need of a tailor: I recently lost some weight and need to have some suits altered (about 1.5 to 2 sizes down). They're J Crew, so I guess moderately priced -- so I don't want to spend a ton of money having them altered, but also don't want to just give them away (seriously, I've worn them maybe twice).

Are there any reasonably priced (and good!) tailors in the DC area (or Northern VA) that could help me out?


Janet Bennett Kelly: Any chatters have experience with having suits altered for a reasonable price in DC or Northern Virginia?


Football Widow: Hi Fashionistas. My husband has entered the world of obsession (aka football season), and I get bored just sitting there pretending to care about completed passes and flags on the play. I have thought about knitting in order to spend time with him but still accomplish something. Any ideas on what I should start with and what could be an asset to my wardrobe? I could do a scarf, but I don't really want a huge chunky one. Thanks.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I feel your pain and admire your willingness to watch even though it's boring. I usually go read a book or go shopping myself. In any event, yes, start with a scarf. It's a terrific accent for your fall/winter wardrobe, and it doesn't have to be chunky. I don't know much about knitting, but can you find some lightweight wool and make a long scarf to drape stylishly around your neck?


Washington, DC: Where is a good store or brand to find nice blouses for young women who are big busted? I wear a size 6 and it is kind of difficult to find cute blouses. Please help. Thank you.

Holly Thomas: I've heard great things about the brand Rebecca & Drew, which offers custom shirts that you can order by bra size. The new Insignia collection offers a couple cute options -- I like the twist-front and shell styles. They're not cheap, but one or two might be a worthwhile investment if you're having trouble finding blouses that fit.


Zappos/Endless return policy: Funny, I was just reading an article in the New Yorker about Zappos and how they know that people use their website to try stuff on and return and that's why they have free shipping/such a generous return policy. So I think you're fine!

Holly Thomas: Thanks for the background!


Old Town: I'm looking for a gray (darker shade) trench coat. I've really liked the ones Banana Republic had last year and their similar one this year, but I want to bridge the gap between tan and black with a darker gray (They have a lighter gray). Any suggestions in a similar price range?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Although gray is a big color this fall, I haven't seen many trenches in that color. If I were you, I'd look through the racks at Loehmann's and Filene's to see if I could find something there.


Washington, DC: Hi, thanks for taking question. I am looking for cowgirls boot for my daughter. She is 4 and loves them. If I can find them for a reasonable price it will be great.

Thanks Again

Holly Thomas: A few years back, I bought my 7-year-old niece a pair of red leather cowboy boots from ... she slept in them for the first couple nights, so I'd say they were a hit. Prices for kids' boots are a little steep (most are in the $40 range), but Amazon's selection is good.


Wilmington, Del.: For the woman thinking of taking up knitting - check out It's a social networking site for knitters, and it's also a huge resource for gorgeous knitting patterns and knitting help.

Holly Thomas: Suggestion for -- thanks!


Modcloth: The quality of their clothing is hit-or- miss. I've started clicking on "Composition and Measurements" to get a feel for how the quality of the item is.

Their return policy is anything less than 30 days. And they tend to sell out of things quite quickly, so if you see it, snatch it. It could be gone tomorrow.

That being said, it is my favorite site for quirky accessories, and I probably shop there more than any other site.

Holly Thomas: Some info about ...


Wedding Dress Shopping???: So I am going dress shopping in a few weeks and have no idea what the process should entail! Do I make an appointment? Will an afternoon at David's bridal take an hour or 4? What kind of questions should I ask? Are wedding dresses true to size?



The Oh-so-not-Bridezilla

Janet Bennett Kelly: Yes, non-bridezilla, it's best to make an appointment. I would guesstimate that an hour would not be enough, not matter where you go, unless you happen to be extremely lucky and find something you love immediately. It would be very rare to find a wedding dress that didn't need to be altered to fit your proportions. Expect that whatever you choose will have to be altered. As for the kind of questions you should ask, go out and get yourself a bride's magazine -- there are some still publishing -- such as Martha Stewart's. They almost always have tips on bridal fashion and how to buy a dress. There's also a site called "The Knot" that offers advice on buying a bridal gown. Good luck!


Closet wasteland: I need to do a total wardrobe makeover. Tim Gunn (does he even still have that show?) isn't knocking on my door but I could really use his help. Is there a stylist/service that will do what he does? I need someone to come in and go through my closet tell me what looks good, bad and why; and help me find clothes/styles that flatter me. I think I get too swayed by what looks good on other people and not what's good for my body. Thanks

Holly Thomas: The DC metro area has a handful of personal shoppers/closet stylists that do this kind of thing -- I'm not sure where you're located, but Alison Lukes ( and Margaret Lilly ( have gotten high marks here in the District.


Boots: I would recommend a pair of Ariat Fat Baby boots. Kids can wear them just like tennis shoes and they can be worn until they are practically worn out.

Holly Thomas: For the chatter looking for kids' cowboy boots ...


Size Change: I have noticed in my failed shopping attempts lately that clothes seem to be bigger. For example, a size 2 is fitting more like a size 4. I thought it was just the designer, but it appears to be across the board. Any thoughts on retailers/designers who stay true to the size? I typically end up buying something too big and having it altered, which costs a fortune, or buying nothing.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Any chatters have ideas on designers that run true to size?


for Old Town, Gray Trench Coat: Nordstrom website shows a Kenneth Cole Reaction trench in a color called Gravel, dark gray with a wide collar, for $148. Hits mid-thigh, single-breasted, wool blend

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the chatter in search of a gray trenchcoat, this chatter recommends you check out Kenneth Col Reaction. Thanks for the tip!


skinny jeans: Does anyone sell skinny jeans that are NOT super low rise? I'd love a pair, but prefer a higher rise (about 2" under belly button with full back coverage). Thanks for any help!

Holly Thomas: Try the in-house brand from Up Against the Wall -- the rise is higher than most I've tried, and they offer a bit more coverage in the back.


J.Crew suits: I've been through the same scenario, and I really think it's not worth altering down more than a half size or so - especially the jackets. Altering everything inevitably gets expensive, and it just never looks the same. If I were you, I'd sell them on eBay or Craigslist to recoup some of your money, and then treat yourself to new suits.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I tend to agree, except that I'd say not to alter down more than one size. And it does become expensive. Good idea to try to recoup some money by selling on eBay or Craigslist. You could also try a local consignment store.


Fairfax, Va.: Me again from dress-obsessed... I own a pair of the "jeggings" and I did indeed buy them on a recent visit to London. Now I realize why I've never seen them around town. I think they are cuter then tights-leggings but only because I adhere to the adage: "Never wear a trend when you wore it the first time." I wore too many stretch-leggings with over-sized sweaters in my youth. I thought the "jeggings" were OK because they were closer to skinny jeans but without the fatal belly cut. However, I don't wear them very often because the elastic is so comfortable - not tight - that they ride down when I'm walking.

Holly Thomas: I agree with your adage ... hence why I'll never wear stirrup pants ever again. Thanks for the firsthand advice on jeggings!


Re: med school interview shoes: I think even Cole Haan at DSW might be out of a student price range. I would start with looking at the shoes you have now: is there a pair that's comfortable? What makes them so? Measure the heel heights of your shoes to see which are easiest to walk in, and make sure your new ones are the same or shorter. What brands have you found comfortable in the past? Start with those.

I've had good experience with Nine West, Kenneth Cole Reaction, and Sofft (a little pricier) being comfortable. Also, for me, 2"-2.5" heels that are thicker (or even wedged) helps with balance and walking. And be sure to wear them beforehand so you know if you need band-aids for blisters!

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the medical school student in search of comfy, stylish shoes, some advice.


Arlington, Va.: I always say I'm going to branch out and shop at smaller boutiques, but then I keep ending up at Banana Republic and Ann Taylor. Can you recommend some more interesting (but not super expensive) stores? I need business casual work clothes and dresses for a couple of fall weddings and rehearsal dinners. Thanks.

Holly Thomas: Good for you for trying to branch out! Here's a quick list of places to try in Arlington/Alexandria: South Moon Under, Current Boutique (for consignment), Treat, and Diva. For business casual via chain stores, there's always Zara. And outlet stores are another good option for changing up brands/styles while sticking to an Ann Taylor/Banana Republic budget.


Janet Bennett Kelly: We gotta go. Thanks for joining in and sharing your wisdom. And the winners are the chatter who gave ideas to the medical school student on a budget seeking stylish, comfortable shoes and the chatter who suggested the knitting site, The former will receive the Aveeno cleansing cream and the latter the knitting book. Please send your info to, and we'll get those right out to you. And do follow us on See you next Tuesday.


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