Talking fashion: Sweater dresses, steaming silk, too-big heels, menswear, Mad Men clothes, socks with flats, static cling

Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 10, 2009; 12:00 PM

Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas answered your fashion questions on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

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


Holly Thomas: Afternoon, chatters! Thanks for joining me today -- Janet Bennett Kelly is out, so I'll be taking your q's on all things stylish. And we've got some fabulous prizes, as well -- a Too Faced "French & Fabulous" makeup palette and a Lavanila Laboratories set of 4 mini roller-ball fragrances. Let's get started!


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Holly and Janet,

I'm in my late 40s, with a casual/creative style. I bought a great pair of short black boots in a motorcycle style with three sets of straps and buckles. I'd like to get a dress to wear with them (with black tights) for holiday parties, but I'm puzzled about proportion and fabric type. I'm normally a pants person, but I've recently lost some weight and am ready to try something new.

My instinct is to go with a looser silhouette - I don't have the figure or the attitude to carry off a Joan Jett look. I've seen some great knee-length dresses online in either shift or empire style. Do you think those shapes would work with the boots? Does the fabric need to be on the heavier side to balance the boots, or can lighter fabrics in a deep color work?

Holly Thomas: It's hard to say without seeing your boots, but my instinct is to balance the toughness of the shoe with something soft and flowy -- but think artistic and edgy, not girly and super-sweet. Take a look at the Complex Geometries website ( for some ideas. One last tip -- if your boots are ankle-height, make sure your hemline falls just above the knee or higher to make your legs look longer.


Washington, DC: I bought high heels at J. Crew several years ago in my normal shoe size. My heel won't stay put in the shoe. A coworker said I need to buy smaller shoes. Isn't it possible that I have a really narrow heel? The shoes don't feel too big, my toes are where they should be. And I have had this problem with many pairs of high heels, so I wear slingbacks instead... Thanks.

Holly Thomas: Have you tried cushions or pads in the heels? I'm a recent convert to the Hug My Heels gel inserts from Airplus -- they stick to the inside edge of the shoe and they're the only thing I've found that can keep new flats from shredding my heels. They might work for your too-big shoes by filling the empty space in the heel.


Sweater Dress: Got a cute black cowl neck sweater dress. Looks great as is, but would probably look cute with a belt - skinny or thick belt? The sweater fabric is not too thick and bulky.

Holly Thomas: Your dress sounds super chic! I'd choose a belt width based on your body type -- curvy silhouettes look great with a wide belt that emphasizes the waistline, while boyish figures can get the look of a nipped-in waist from a thin, sleek belt.


Alexandria, Va.: It seems like men get the shorter end of the stick when it comes to fashion in DC. Will you guys be including anything men-related in the future?

Holly Thomas: Hi Alexandria -- I'm working on some menswear-themed columns now for the WP Magazine's Trend Report column, so keep an eye out in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you might check out last weekend's Street Style feature, which included several stylish guys around town. Thanks for your feedback!

_______________________ Trend Report: Street Style

Holly Thomas: A link to last weekend's Street Style roundup...


Steaming silk?: Hi, I have a technical question for you all. I bought an adorable silk dress from Anthropologie to wear to my birthday dinner this weekend. It has a little ruffle down the front that is smooshed (probably from being squished on the sales rack) that I want to steam/iron back into place. My local dry cleaner doesn't have a steamer or any equipment to do it in-house, so I'd like to do it myself. Can I use an iron at the lowest setting, or set it higher and try to steam it? I think I'll need to actually put heat on the silk to get that ruffle back in place...

Holly Thomas: First, try using your iron's steam function without actually touching the fabric to the iron ... just apply the steam and try to work the wrinkles out with your fingers. If that doesn't work, cover the silk with a piece of cotton fabric (a t-shirt will do in a pinch) and press it very lightly with a dry iron. You might also try misting the dress with Downy's Wrinkle Releaser spray.


Re: Silver Spring (in her step): I vote for a great wide belt to cinch a floral dress with a loose/long boyfriend cardigan over it...maybe some tights too? She'll look fabulous and a little edgy with those boots :)

Holly Thomas: An outfit suggestion for the Silver Spring chatter with new motorcycle ankle boots ...


Heels too big: Yes, it's possible that your heels are too narrow for the shoe. Yes, heel slip-aides can help. Alternatively, your foot might be sliding forward because the instep and/or toe are too wide. You could try an insert that cushions the ball of your feet. Some of them are silicone to deter the foot from slipping into the toe box.

Holly Thomas: A suggestion for ball-of-foot cushions for the chatter with too-big heels ... thanks!


Mad Men Birthday Party: Hi! The first weekend of Dec. I am hosting a Mad Men Themed birthday party. Where should I go to find the perfect Joan or Betty dress? Vintage or consignment stores? Hoping to go this weekend - DC/VA/MD all works. Thanks!

Holly Thomas: Oooh how fun! If you're on a budget, start with the Unique Thrift and Value Village outposts in the MD and VA suburbs -- head straight for the racks labeled "vintage" (which is a catch-all label applied to choir robes, old wedding gowns, and the occasional vintage piece) and then meander over to the dresses. For a boutique experience closer to home, try Annie Creamcheese and Remix.


Northern Va.: I love the look of belts over cardigans, but I'm wondering how to wear the look. Should the cardigan be on the longer side, or should the belt go higher than my natural waist? Thanks.

Holly Thomas: Really, it all boils down to what flatters your figure ... but there are a few general guidelines that might help. If you're petite, opt for a cardigan that hits at your hip and choose a slim belt. Try wearing it at your natural waist or a little higher, at the narrowest part of your torso. If you're on the taller side, try a long-length cardigan and experiment with different belt widths to see which is most flattering. Wear it at your natural waist to balance your proportions.


Washington D.C.: To the person with the narrow heel...I also have this problem with shoes. A salesperson at Macy's gave me some (free!) padded heel inserts to try and these worked well. Not only was my "heel slipping" problem solved but it gave me a nice soft cushion to the back of a super fun pair of shoes!

Holly Thomas: Thanks for the advice!


Re: Slipping Heel: I also have narrow heels! Flats and pumps slip right off me. Sometimes pads or heel grips aren't thick enough to fill the space between your heel and your shoe. Try going down a size just to be sure. I wear a half size to full size smaller than my regular shoe size because I have narrow heels. My shoes are still comfortable, though.

Holly Thomas: For narrow heels, a chatter suggests trying a smaller shoe size ... just make sure they're comfortable!


Boots!: My favorite fall trend: Boots with a wedge heel! Bought some at Macy's that look great, but I've seen similar styles around town. I've always loved boots but couldn't handle a tiny little heel. Finally can do the great skirt and boots look without spraining my ankles.

Holly Thomas: Glad you found great boots -- wedge heels are a good option when you want comfort with a bit of height.


Wheaton, Md.: I feel like this is a dumb question, but I'm confused over how to wear cute ballet slippers or slip-on loafers with jeans in the winter. It's too cold to wear them barefoot, but I also feel like it looks weird if I wear thin socks with them. Any suggestions, or am I doomed to wearing sheer knee-highs?

Holly Thomas: For loafers, I think you can get away with a thin trouser sock. But for ballet flats, sheer knee-highs seem like the best option to provide a little warmth without adding bulk. Maybe experiment with an opaque black knee-high to change up the routine a bit.


Mad Men Vintage Clothes: Another, cheaper option, might be to ask older relatives or other women of a certain age you might know to raid their closets. Chances are, they are storing some fabulous outfits in an attic or chest.

In the 1960s, more women actually made their own clothes from patterns, making it more likely they may have held on to those dresses. I know I've got some fabulous 1960s & 1970s handmade vintage items from my mom!

Holly Thomas: Lucky you! If only I had access to an attic full of fabulous vintage clothes ... For the chatter looking for Mad Men-era dresses, it's never a bad idea to go straight to the source.


For Steaming silk:: There is an ironing cloth available at Target that you can put on top of delicate fabrics and then iron them. The cloth is made of some type of mesh fabric that is heat resistant but allows the heat and steam to penetrate through without burning the item. I have used it safely for my silk scarfs while my iron is set to the highest temperature.

Holly Thomas: For the chatter hoping to steam wrinkles out of her birthday dinner dress -- a tip for an ironing cloth.


Shrunken Leather Jacket: Was thrift store shopping and found a to-die-for little boys leather bomber jacket. It is the perfect thrifty-girl's dream for this season's look at a great price..less than $50! It hadn't even crossed my mind to look in the children's clothes, but it caught my eye as I walked past.

Holly Thomas: Good score! I always check through the kid's clothing at thrift stores ... I very nearly bought a girls' faux-fur bolero this weekend, until I discovered it had some intense Beadazzling down one sleeve ... sigh.


Cambridge, Mass.: I've heard (I think it was in this chat) never to dry clean cashmere, but all my J.Crew cashmere sweaters say "Dry Clean Only on the tag." Should I still hand wash them? Thanks!

Holly Thomas: I've been told that, over time, the chemicals involved in dry cleaning can wreak havoc on delicate fabrics like cashmere. Personally, I stick with Woolite and warm water for all my sweaters.


socks with flats: I hate the look of socks with my flats, so I have started wearing footies like the ones you can use to try on shoes at the store. I got some great ones from Hue. They keep my toes warm, and hide the sock part. Usually, the tops of my feet don't get cold (unless it is really windy - in which case you have to go with boots anyway).

Holly Thomas: Great tip for Hue footies for the chatter trying to pair socks with flats...


Re: Silver Spring (in her step): I have a pair of motorcycle boots that sound like they're just what this person has as well. I've been known to wear a casual pencil skirt with tights and the boots. As long as you keep the skirt and tights subtle, the boots will remain the star.

Holly Thomas: Thanks for the suggestion!


static-y silk dress: I also have a pretty silk dress from Anthropologie, but the first time a wore it, last winter, static cling caused the dress to mold itself around my legs. It was so embarrassing I haven't worn the dress again! What's the best solution to this problem? Wearing a cotton slip under the dress? I would love to wear the dress again this holiday season, but not until I find a good solution to the static issue.

Holly Thomas: Ugh, I hate when this happens! I usually wear a silk half-slip under dresses that are particularly static-prone, but I've heard of using dryer sheets to solve the problem, too -- keep one on hand to run over your tights and the inside of the dress during the day.


Mad Men Party: Try! They have so many cute retro dresses and they have flat rate shipping! I am a HUGE fan of their tights and jewelry!

Holly Thomas: A vote for for the chatter looking for Mad Men dresses ...


great finds at thrift shops: If you're in the city and thrift shops are picked over with no amazing finds, stop by the thrift shop when you're on a day trip to the country. I once found a $30 mint leather biker jacket at the thrift shop in Berryville when I was day-tripping for apples and fruitcake from the Abbey.

Holly Thomas: Sounds like my kind of day trip! Thanks for the suggestion.


Bowie, Md.: What kind of shoes would you recommend for men during the winter? I hear desert boots are suppose to be the big thing, but I'm not sure. And if they are, could they be worn with suits?

Holly Thomas: I'm a big fan of the desert boot look, and they can definitely be worn with suits. Start with a basic black leather pair and try wearing them with a slim-cut suit. If you love the look, expand into suede and range of different colors to wear with jeans, casual trousers and chinos.


Woolite and warm water?: Warm? Really? I thought most delicate textiles needed cold?

And somewhere I heard that Woolite is not nearly as gentle as it proclaims itself. Of course, that didn't prevent my mother instilling its use in me over years of hand washing and blocking out wool sweaters (which is very difficult in a condo/apartment situation, do other chatters find the space to block out delicate knits?)

Holly Thomas: I use lukewarm water mainly because cold water doesn't seem to get out the small spots and stains I tend to acquire. And I've never had a problem with Woolite not being gentle enough, but The Laundress ( has some specialty options that are worth a look.


Static: I rely on Static Guard in the winter. I spray it on both the inside and outside of my skirts/dresses--problem solved.

Holly Thomas: Static Guard for the chatter with the clingy dress -- thanks!


For smooshed ruffle: You might first want to try just putting your dress in the bathroom while you take a hot shower. Sometimes the resulting steam is enough to unwrinkle delicate fabrics. It costs nothing (well, except the hot water!) and is worth trying before spending money on other solutions. If it doesn't work, you can always move on to the next option.

Holly Thomas: Thanks for the tip!


Re: Mad Men theme and ModCloth: I've purchased a few items from ModCloth and while I love their selection, do make sure to tend a bit larger with the sizes - I'm usually a small/medium and found their apparel to fit very, very snugly! (so much so that I had to return items for larger sizes)

Holly Thomas: A note about sizing ...


Mad Men recommendation: If you really can't find anything at a thrift or consignment shop, just go for the silhouette. Get a great boatneck sheath dress, pumps, wrist-length leather gloves and a pillbox hat (even department stores are selling these now). The upside? A basic sheath in a great color (or neutral) can be a staple in your wardrobe past the b-day party!

Holly Thomas: Very true -- thanks for the great suggestion!


Holly Thomas: Thanks for all the great questions and suggestions today! The chatter who suggested the Target ironing cloth for removing wrinkles gets the set of mini roller-ball fragrances; the chatter with the tip on Static Guard gets the Too Faced palette. Email your address to and we'll get the prizes in the mail. And join us again next week for more Talking Fashion!


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