Talking fashion: Winter boots, man bags, gifts to pamper new moms, cross-body bags, tall and proud

Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 22, 2009; 12:00 PM

Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas answered your fashion questions on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

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


Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, everyone and welcome to this week's edition of Talking Fashion. By the way, do you like the name of the chat; do you have suggestions for a name change? Holly are I here and ready to take your questions and hear your insightful fashion hints. For the best of the latter, goodies this week are a Clinique Youth Surge Night moisturizer and a Victoria's Secret eyeshadow quad in Mysterious. Ready to go?


Hagerstown, Md.: Hello Janet and Holly! This is not really a style question, but I am sure your advice would still be fabulous. I need gift-giving advice. My sis-in-law just gave birth to her third baby and I would love to give her something to make her feel pampered, pretty, and glam. I was thinking of getting her a nice gift set of lotion/cream or a makeup palette, but those things can be personal in terms of scent, color match, etc. Any gift suggestions?

Holly Thomas: Very thoughtful! I think you're right about a makeup palette being a bit too personal, so a nice selection of body products seems like a good choice. I'd suggest checking out Noodle & Boo ( for a range of high-quality balms, lotions and creams for mom and baby. The site lists a few local retailers, in case you want to try out the products in person.


Alexandria, Va.: Do men's shoes and belts have to match? Should the shoes match the pants? Should socks match the pants?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, Alexandria,

Thanks for sending in those questions. According to my menswear sartorial advisers, shoes and belts should match and shoes should match the pants. However, you could take a page from David Beckham's and choose a light-colored shoe with, say, navy pants. In business/conservative situations, the socks should be a close match to the pants or the shoes. In a more casual setting, express yourself and let the socks work as an accent to your pants/shoes.


re: gift for sister-in-law: How about a gift certificate to a spa or nail salon? That way, she can choose which treatment she's up for, or even save it for when she's back in shape a bit. Also, if you're able, offer to babysit when she makes the appointment!

Holly Thomas: Very thoughtful ... thanks for the suggestion!


Washington, DC: Dear Janet and Holly -- I am looking for a manbag. Not a man purse, or murse, mind you. Got any suggestions? Maybe something like this? Rustic looking, you know.

Holly Thomas: Hmm ... what about the Shield Bag from UK retailer All Saints? They recently launched a US retail site and that bag looks pretty similar to the one John Mayer's toting in your example ...

Janet Bennett Kelly: Also, there is a site called ManBag that features several of the messenger-type bags that appeal to you.

_______________________ All Saints Shield Bag

Holly Thomas: The All Saints option ...


Re: Hagerstown: For the new mom sister-in-law: Think about what she would really like, that is, what her true interests are. I would have liked and welcomed the gifts the writer described, but I also would have liked something related to my passion for cooking/eating. After 5 days in the hospital, I was dying to cook my own meals! (I know, this is counter to how most people feel after giving birth!) Also, after months of not eating sushi, soft cheese, margaritas(!), etc., a gift relating to those would have been so fabulous.

Holly Thomas: Another suggestion for the sister-in-law gift...


Maryland: A gift certificate for a facial or pedicure and an offer to babysit while she is having it done is a great pampering gift!!!!

Holly Thomas: Lots of spa suggestions for the sister-in-law ...


Re: new mom gift: For the poster looking for a pampering gift for her sister-in-law, who just had a baby -- how about a gift certificate for a facial or a pedicure? She might not be able to use it right away, if she doesn't want to leave the baby yet, but it would give her some me-time to look forward to.

Holly Thomas: Thanks!


McLean, Va.: Chat name change...I think the name is fine..but if you are looking for a change, how about "Clothes Encounters?"

Janet Bennett Kelly: Cute suggestion. Thanks for chiming in.


Washington DC: I'll be on the road for more than a week over the holidays. I need to limit the shoes I take to keep my luggage from being too heavy. I must take running shoes, both for exercising and for snow shoveling and other outdoor activities. For my other two pairs, I'm thinking black ballet flats and a pair of boots. But what kind? My choices are black heeled boots, black flat boots, or brown flat boots. What do you think is most versatile? I would love to take some pretty heels or fancier flats, too, but isn't that impractical?

Holly Thomas: I think this depends on what you plan to do over the holidays. If you're doing a lot of low-key things like window-shopping, touring the city or walking around museums, I'd go with the flat black boots and ballet flats (and pack mostly neutral clothes to go with them). But if dinner parties, cocktail events or dancing are on the agenda, I'd swap the ballet flats for a pair of pretty heels.


Re: Man Bag: Fossil makes really nice, high quality bags for men! Try this one.

Holly Thomas: Thanks for the suggestion!


Thanks - am loving the gift: A couple of weeks back I got the Lavanila Mini Roller Ball Set of fragrances and I just love them and will giving the set to both my sisters for Christmas.

Holly Thomas: Glad to hear the chat prize is a hit!


Washington, DC: I am currently searching for footwear that will keep my feet warm and dry (and also have good traction) in this weather. I have a pair of uggs, which I love for their comfort and warmth, but they didn't last very long for their cost, and I know they're not the most fashion-forward choice. What would you recommend as a fashionable alternative?

Janet Bennett Kelly: As an alternative to Uggs, there's a brand called Aquatalia that offers some fashionable and warm styles, and Tory Burch showed some shearling-lined, good-looking boots as well, although I think they were so popular, you might have trouble finding any. La Canadienne, which is sold at Nordstrom, also has some styles you may find appealing.


Santa Fe, N.M.: Part style question, part psychology. I'm tall but not model skinny (5'8 and 135) and have had a fear of my own height since high school, when my best friend was 5'3 and 100 pounds soaking wet. The intervening 30 years did nothing to lessen it, I'm afraid. Lately, it seems like finding shoes or boots with anything less than a three-inch heel is like finding the grail. So maybe it's time to get some objective perspective. Yes, tall and skinny looks...glamorous, I guess. What does tall and medium look like? Do I look as much like a Clydesdale as I think I do? I'm not secretly looking for affirmation, I need an honest take so I don't look foolish. Do I continue the search for flats or give into the trend for higher heels?

Holly Thomas: You don't sound anything like a Clydesdale to me! I'm also quite tall, and being told to embrace my height was some of the best advice I've ever gotten. The secret is carrying yourself with confidence, keeping your head high and holding your shoulders back. (Yoga is especially good for this, from personal experience.) As far as finding shoes with a low heel, use the heel-height searches on and to find options you'll be comfortable in. Slipping into a pair of 3-inch heels every now and then can be fun, but I don't think you need to abandon flats or low heels.


Re: warm and dry boots: I just discovered a brand called Blondo at Nordstrom. They had some nice styles that were also waterproof, etc.

Holly Thomas: A vote for Blondo boots ... thanks!


Washington, DC: Any suggestions for a purse that can be slung across a shoulder? I have a toddler and one on the way, and purses that need to be held or hung off one shoulder are totally impractical at this point. I have a Sherpani and love it but it's very casual. Oh - I also don't wear leather. Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: I have seen some canvas messenger bags around, but I can't remember where. Maybe Dooney & Bourke or Hobo?


Better Name for the Chat: The Thread

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks for the suggestion. Much appreciated.


20006: I need a comfy pair of boots for this snowy season. I wear dress shoes Mon-Fri so I need to give my feet a break when I get home and on the weekends. I'm not really crazy about Uggs (both in style and in price), but I've been told that they are unbelievably comfortable as far as boots go. Should I invest in a pair? I saw Target sells similar Ugg-style boots. Do you know if they would be good alternatives, comfort-wise? Any other recommendations? I'd prefer boots that I don't have to shove my pants into because I don't think that look would flatter me.

Thanks and keep up the good work in the style world! Love your witty chatter here.

Janet Bennett Kelly: As an owner of a pair of Uggs, I can attest to their comfort and warmth, if not their beauty. However, there are alternatives to the most prevalent round-toe Ugg style. I would suggest looking on their site and then go try them on to see how they look and feel on you.


DC: Hello fashionistas! I just bought a really cute skirt somewhere in the orange-coral family. But I'm stuck on what to pair it with and not look like a pumpkin. Even if I wear a gray top, for example - do I wear black tights? How do I make this work? Thanks!

Holly Thomas: I'd say just make sure your shoes and tights match and keep the focus on the bright skirt. For example, wear your gray top with the skirt, plus black tights and black boots. Or try a soft camel-colored sweater with brown tights and brown boots.


Re: Warm footwear: Timberland makes really great winter boots that are very fashionable (and not that signature bright yellow color!). A lot of them are shearling lined, and come in a variety of colors and types (ankle boots, tall boots). I'm wearing a pair I got in 2007 that are the most comfortable boots I've ever worn and the only pair of boots I wear when I'm walking in winter weather muck.

Janet Bennett Kelly: This chatter likes Timberland as an Uggs alternative. Thanks, that's worth checking out!


Washington, DC: Hi fashion gurus!

What with it being winter and all, I'm desperately in need of sweaters. The JCrew Jackie cardigan is the perfect layering piece (I have it in 6 colors), which is exactly the problem--there's no variety in my wardrobe. I'd love sweaters with fun/more complicated necklines or open sweaters, but being only 5'4" and sort of curvy, a lot of the wrap-in-front sweaters segment my body into too many pieces/are better suited for taller people (which also holds true for the Anthropologie sweaters). Plus, the JCrew Jackie is much closer to my budget--any ideas?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, D.C.,

Vince and Theory offer more variety in terms of sweater styles. They're more expensive than J. Crew, but come January, you may well be able to snag some deals. Also, Tory Burch and Nanette Lepore are possibilities.


Uggs: I know you hate Uggs, but have you seen some of the newer styles? I recently purchased Broome.

They are warm and you do not look like a teenager.

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't hate Uggs. And I definitely agree with you -- there are some newer styles that don't scream teeny bopper.


Alexandria, Va.: My mother-in-law recently gave me a gorgeous brown faux-fur stole given to her from her mother in law. I think it's probably from the 50s and 60s.

Is this something I should reserve for the few special nights out (anniversary) or something I can wear to work when it's warmer, or with more casual clothes (like jeans).

It's just sitting in my closet and every time I look at it, I just want to wear it. But if I save it for special occasions only, that means it'll only get worn once or twice a year.

Holly Thomas: I'm not sure a stole is appropriate for work or with jeans, but I think you should definitely try it with some wide-legged trousers and a pretty blouse the next time you go out for a nice dinner. Channel Katherine Hepburn and go for a sort of Old Hollywood glamour. Of course, it'll look great with a cocktail dress for any sort of after-hours event -- why not try it out for a holiday party, or for a New Year's Eve fete?


Capitol Hill: For the new mother looking for a cross the body bag, I would suggest looking online at Nordstrom. Their handbag shop lets you sort by size or style (cross the body or messenger style). I found this after a quick search.

I thought this would be nice since it could be worn two different ways and its not canvas. I'm sure other websites have similar features.

Holly Thomas: A tip for the mom looking for a cross-body bag ... thanks!


Clydesdale!?!: I'm sorry but 5'8" and 135 lbs is A) not that tall and B) is probably close to the aesthetically ideal weight for her height. Most women would love to have that body. Not to mention, those models she thinks look so beautiful in pictures probably look scrawny in real life. She needs to focus on finding shoes that fit her wardrobe and lifestyle and cut the "Clydesdale" cowpoo.

Holly Thomas: Agreed ...


East Coast Girl: I'm going to San Francisco over the holidays and I have no idea what to pack. I'm a bit apprehensive about my wardrobe because I'm traveling with a new boyfriend (who is quite stylish in his own right) so I want to look cute but be comfortable enough to walk around the city. Can I bring my patterned tights and velvet blazers or should I stick with jeans and go more casual? Thanks!

Janet Bennett Kelly: How much room do you have in your suitcase? I'd pack or wear the velvet blazer -- it can go with a skirt or with your jeans. And definitely the patterned tights.


About being tall: Just some perspective from someone who is very short (5'3). Whenever I see a very tall woman walk down the street, I take notice - this might confirm your worst fears, but I take notice because I would love to be taller, my reasons which extend from being able to see over the tops of heads during concerts to not being pushed because people can't see me. Trust me - some of us short people see you tall Amazon women with envy. Embrace your height and wear it with pride! Some of us only wish to be so high up, and have to compensate for it with heels!

Holly Thomas: A confidence boost for the chatter worried about her height ...


Capital Hill: For the mother looking for a bag to fling over your shoulder, try Le Sac, which can be found in all different dept. stores. There are some great patterns and all different length straps. And what's great is the material, so it has versatility.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks, Capitol Hill, for that suggestion. Le Sac does have lots of variety.


Lehigh Valley, Pa.: Hello!

I have a morning wedding on Valentines Day here in Pennsylvania.

I'm planning on wearing a teal cocktail dress that has a petal-layer skirt that falls below the knee, black hose and black heels.

It's sleeveless and I want to dress it down, so should I wear a cardigan with it or a jacket?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, Lehigh,

What about a shawl or a big scarf? I'm just concerned that a cardigan or a jacket will ruin the line of what sounds like a very pretty dress.


Momma needs a new dress: Hi ladies! Hope you can help me out. My mom is coming to DC for a long weekend in January. We have a big family wedding in Chicago this May, and I'd like to take her somewhere to find a dress to wear (it's not black tie, but still a pretty formal, downtown, fancypants wedding). She lives in a -really- small beach town in Florida, and is feeling a little insecure about finding something great to wear. Places like Nordstrom's, etc are out, because she hates "traditional" dresses (read: synthetics, sequins, shiny fabrics, beading, etc). She's mid-50s and has great legs, a former hippie and earth-mama, and prefers natural fabrics. I'd love to take her shopping at a few places with creative dresses that can be dressed up or down with great jewelry, so she could wear it again. Most of her everyday stuff is J.Jill, if that gives you a hint about her style. Any thoughts?

Holly Thomas: It sounds like Upstairs on 7th is worth a visit (, and you might stop by Peruvian Connection as well -- their Film Noir dress is stunning, as is the Baby Alpaca Corsage dress. Both seem like good options for a natural-fabric-loving earth-mother type with great legs. Happy shopping!


Rockville, Md.: Thanks for taking my question, I love your chat. So I just bought my first pair of boots (brown Nine Wests) at Buffalo Exchange during a recent trip to Philly. I'm beyond excited but don't know how to care for them. I've heard that boots need to be resoled and polished every year. Is that true? I don't want to ruin a great find.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Thanks, Rockville. We love your questions. Congrats on the new boots. As for maintenance, it depends very much on how much you wear them. I would imagine they'd need to be polished more than once a year, but as for resoling, I'm not so sure. There are products you can apply to the leather that protects it from salt and slush.


Charlotte, NC: Does Pendleton exist anymore? Is there something equivalent for nice, tailored, solid color skirts and jackets?

Holly Thomas: Pendleton does still exist, in fact -- has a lot of solid-color, nicely tailored skirts in the $100-$150 range.


Washington, DC: For the chatter looking to keep her feet dry and warm, I have been living in my hunter rain boots since the snow started falling on Saturday. They are tall and when worn with fleece socks or the hunter fleece linings, they are very warm and keep my feet dry. I actually doubled up on the fleece socks and a pair of old legwarmers for an afternoon of errands and snow dodging on Sunday. As an added bonus I don't have to worry about the snow melt and salt ruining my boots!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Holly Thomas: Hunter boots and fleece socks are a definite for nasty weather ... thanks!


From the clydesdale: Thanks, all, I need to hear what you're all writing. I do think it's psychological--after all, during that very scary teenage period my best friend was tiny, tiny--and it's about time I got over it. I'll try to cut my internal dialogues short (haha) by telling myself it's cowpoo! That's for a great word!

Holly Thomas: Sometimes, all the advice you need can be found here on the interwebs. Thanks for tuning in!


Mt Vernon Triangle: Hello Janet and Holly -

As a loyal reader who will be shipping up to Boston (brrr) for the holidays on Tuesday, I wanted to post early. I LOVE long sleeve t- shirts, v-neck and crew neck, but have found that on the ones I currently own, the arms get stretched out by the end of the day. Do you - or any brilliant readers - have suggestions for shirts that won't become loose in the elbows right as I'm ready to head out after work?

Thanks so much for all you do!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, there, Mt. Vernon,

Have you looked at Petit Bateau? I've always been a fan of their short-sleeve T-shirts, but can't vouch for how the long-sleeves will fare.


DC: Tall person here -- I've got about three inches and 30 lbs on the person who wrote in -- she's definitely not seen as a Clydesdale. I agree that sometimes I feel very tall and thus "big" but someone once told me "if you don't stand up straight, the short people win." It's so absolutely absurd that it always makes me smile and stand up straight. Second, I just bought Emu's, which are basically expensive Ugg's, on Thursday. They rock! No idea why I avoided them for so long -- just don't wear jeans with them if you want them to look nicer. Happy Holidays!

Holly Thomas: Thanks for chiming in!


Holly Thomas: Thanks so much for all your great questions and tips today, chatters! For the reader who suggested Le Sac bags for the new mom, we have the Clinique night moisturizer; for the suggestion for Hunter boots with fleece socks, the Victoria's Secret eyeshadow palette. Email your mailing address to and we'll get those out to you. Have a safe and happy holiday week, and we'll see you all back here next Tuesday at noon!


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