Fashion Fix: Travel packing tips, eyebrow threading, mid-calf hemlines, summer knits, shorts, more

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Holly Thomas,Janet Bennett Kelly
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; 12:00 PM

Janet Bennett Kelly and Holly Thomas answered your questions about the latest fashions, how to make the runway trends work for you and how to shop wisely.

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Janet Bennett Kelly: Ready to go?

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beach attire: Hi ladies - I'm spending a much needed vacation in Belize this August (first vacation in 2 years). Anyway, I have a swim suit, but zero beach accessories, specifically to cover the suit. Most of what I've found is not really "I can wear this on the beach with lots of sand and sun", but more like casual for a beach dinner. Where can I go to find affordable beach wear?

Janet Bennett Kelly:

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Help with creating outfit around unique piece: I've got a great British army women's skirt, camo-olive colored, fitted in the waist, skims the leg, ends at mid-calf...BUT, it's been sitting in my closet for 2 years because I don't know what to wear with it-type of blouse, shoes, accessories. Please help!

Holly Thomas: A hemline that hits at mid-calf is possibly the most unflattering, because it highlights the broadest part of your lower leg. My vote? Have a tailor take this skirt up to either just below or just above your knee, and try it with a simple white or gray t-shirt and plain canvas sneakers for casual weekends.

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Older ladies in shorts??: Shorts or not? I am tall, 5'10" and live in very hot Florida where I love to wear shorts. I don't have bad legs and lost 35 pounds last year so I am relatively slim. Since I am 70 years old, my "little" sister says shorts are not appropriate for me. She is heavier and shorter and I think she is a little jealous. Is it "bad" for me to wear shorts during our hot summer days? ( Longer styles, of course) Thanks, JW

Holly Thomas: give you a pass. Aim for modestly-cut style without pleats, and avoid anything overly short or baggy. A nicely tailored bermuda short is a great option, and you can find a pair at a range of price points -- try Ann Taylor and Banana Republic for starters.

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Help With Pants Fit: I am not looking for a "mom" jean, but anything with a waist that does not fit above the top of the hip bone or has over one percent stretch ends up sliding WAY DOWN and creating huge horizontal folds just below the bum. Are there any somewhat youthful jeans or pants (i.e.classic and adult) for postmenopausal bum, small waist, long rise, very muscular thighs?

Janet Bennett Kelly: There are sooo many different styles when it comes to jeans that I have to tell you -- and I apologize -- but you just have to keep trying styles on 'til you find one that fits your figure. Your best bet would be to go to a store such as Denim Bar, Barneys Co-op and bigger department stores like Saks, Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus, which all have big selections of jeans by different manufacturers, including Citizens of Humanity, J Brand, Acne and Paige, to name just a few. Find a brand you like and buy a couple of pairs!

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pragmatic skirt fitting: I have a very annoying and somewhat comical wardrobe problem. I find that suit skirts or other professionally appropriate skirts tend to slide out of place when I walk, presumably enabled by their smooth linings. My waist is a lot smaller than my hips. When walking my skirts shimmy upward until the waist band is right below my ribs (where I am of course narrowest). Some of them also rotate around backward or sideways if not tugged back every few steps. This happens with multiple items I own. Do I have to have all skirts fitted to my narrowest point to begin with (uncomfortable), or is there another tailoring solution? Am I choosing the wrong materials? Please help me look less absurd this summer.

Holly Thomas: Two ideas: Try one of the many adhesive "fashion tape" options available -- personally, I like Commando's Matchsticks and Hollywood Fashion Tape. Just put a strip between your skirt and blouse and that should keep your skirt in place. Or use a small safety pin to the same end (pin from inside the shirt, just through the inner layer of the skirt).

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Seersucker!: I love it and I just bought a new skirt suit for work, grey and white. What do I wear with it? I just bought some short sleeved cable knit summer weight sweaters, one v neck and one square neck, will these work? The big problem is shoes - I work in a business formal environment, so I have to wear pantyhose. I have plenty of black pumps with different heel heights, but they seem so harsh somehow.

Janet Bennett Kelly: What about a pump in a more summery color or a flat with some embellishment to take some seriousness out of the look?

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re: British army skirt: I love the sound of that skirt--try it with a crisp blouse tucked in and flat sandals, or a tee shirt and sneakers. I like mid-calf skirts with boots, as well, although now is definitely not the season.Here's my question: I just bought a great vintage 1960s linen shift dress. It's lavender, with two narrow white stripes down the front. I'd rather not have to buy a new pair of shoes for it--I've thought about pumps in dark purple or nude, metallic flat sandals, a variety of ballet flats....thoughts?

Holly Thomas: Thanks for weighing in! Your lavender linen dress sounds perfect for summer -- I'd try nude pumps to dress it up and silver flat sandals for a more casual vibe.

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Tips on Packing for Vacays: As of late, I have been traveling a lot for work and/or pleasure and it's been sort of a hassle. But what I learned really quickly, was to keep my toiletry kit ready to go. So basically I had the essentials out, such as my toothbrush and toothpaste, but other knickknacks like tweezers, a sewing kit, etc I left in my kit.

Holly Thomas: I do the same thing -- I keep samples and travel-size products in a few resealable bags inside my luggage, which makes packing in a hurry a lot easier.

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Shorts: For the 70-year old with great legs -- first, yay for you :) Try JCrew for shorts. They have different lengths, from 3" down to 11", I think, and as a 46-year old who also has great legs, they are the only shorts that work well for me. They don't look too young, and they are not tight.

Holly Thomas: For the shorts shopper in Florida, a vote for J Crew -- thanks!

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A hemline that hits at mid-calf is possibly the most unflattering: You always say that, but looks at the start of the silver screen like Audrey Hepburn shows that it is a very flattering length. I love that length: it's high fasion and sophisticated. Maybe it doesn't work on you, but many people like that lengh if they like the retro look. It may be unflattering on petite women, but looks great on tall women.

Holly Thomas: I always say that because it's the truth. But you're right -- some people love the retro look. My advice is directed to those women who aren't necessarily embracing any one particular look and just want something that flatters their figure. Because for a lot of women (not me, for what it's worth), "retro" translates to "dowdy."

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Re:Seersucker!: I always wear nude heels with my seersucker skirts and pants. Lets be honest, nude shoes are great in the spring/summer and make your legs look miles longer :)

Holly Thomas: True story! Thanks for the suggestion.

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bathing suits: Any thoughts on where to buy one piece swimsuits with underwire support?

Janet Bennett Kelly: Also, J Crew carries one-pieces with underwires.

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Vacation packing: Take dual purpose toiletries--that will save a lot of room. I found a combo body wash/shampoo by C. Booth (I use Acai Berry, but there are other scents) that works really well and doesn't flatten my fine hair. Also, bring one lotion for your face and body (with sunscreen!). It's okay to take a break from your normal beauty routine for a week or so--your skin and hair will be fine and you'll be around strangers so nobody will notice if you look different.

Holly Thomas: You might be OK with a combo body wash/shampoo for a few days, but I wouldn't recommend using the same SPF-lotion for your face and body -- body lotions tend to be a bit more greasy/heavy than their lightweight counterparts. And if you have sensitive or problem skin, stick to your normal skincare routine. This is where a couple small travel-size bottles will come in handy -- I stock up at Bed Bath & Beyond.

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Fashion Websites: I am fairly familiar with the fashion/style blogs. Is there anything that spells out who's wearing what on TV shows? I've been catching up with my TV watching (not the best habit) and keep seeing styles that I think are really cute and I'd like to know the brand and possibly where to find them. Thanks!

Holly Thomas: A lot of shows' websites have a costume/wardrobe section with listings of what the characters are wearing ... I'd start there!

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Eyebrow threading post chemo: Ladies- I am in my early 30s and am in the process of beginning to grow my hair back after chemo. Having always done my eyebrows myself, I figure this is a good opportunity to start over with a clean slate and have them professionally done. I am interested in threading, do you have any recommendations for good places to have this done? And about how long do I need to let them get first? They're starting to look like caterpillars and it's getting hard to resist plucking!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Hi, there,So nice to hear your hair is growing back. I'm not a huge fan of threading, but I do have a recommendation for getting your brows back in shape. Isabel Williams at Elizabeth Arden in Chevy Chase, D.C. is a real pro, and a sensitive person, too. Holly, any threading ideas?

Holly Thomas: I've never had my brows threaded, but here's a list the Post printed a while back of some good local spots.

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Shorts in Florida: I spend about half the year in Florida and I can authoritatively say that women of ALL ages and ALL shapes wear shorts in Florida -- how else do you deal with the weather there? I hope you would agree that neither size nor age should ever keep a woman (or a man, for that matter) from wearing appropriate hot weather clothes, and that includes bathing suits as well as shorts. The idea that elderly women need to conceal their bodies from the eyes of the rest of the world is really, really dated.

Holly Thomas: I think we should absolutely dress to suit our respective environments, making the necessary tweaks to ensure that we look age-appropriate. (However, I do draw the line at men in jean shorts -- that is never OK in my book.)

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Re: Threading: Threads on U street does a good job, In VA (Rosslyn) Miracles also does threading.

Holly Thomas: Thanks for the advice on threading!

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Proper attire? Help!!: Help please! My husband and I were invited (via a PDFd emailed invite) to an evening retirement party at the Cosmos Club in DC. According to the web site, in the summer men are not required to wear ties, just jackets. Regardless, my husband plans on wearing a suit to the party, which I think is fine. However, he wants me to wear a knee length, chiffon, BCBG, dress. I think this is way too formal. (I recently wore the dress to a black tie optional wedding). If I refuse to wear the BCBG dress, he wants me to wear a J Crew, knee length, silk, strapless dress, but I still think that's too formal. I was leaning towards a nice summer dress. It's nice that my hubby likes my formal wear and wants it to come out of the closet more often, but I would hate to be horribly over-dressed for the event. Who wins?

Janet Bennett Kelly: you should wear.

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Summer Knits: Are work-appropriate summer knits a thing of the past? I've been casually looking for some timelessly shaped ones, and can't seem to find them anywhere in any malls around. Am I missing something?

Janet Bennett Kelly: I don't think you're missing something -- I think that they're not a lot of them out there this season, as you've already surmised. Too bad, because they're so versatile. Maybe next year.

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Hem Lines: I am a guy and a leg man. Mid calf is not good for 98% of the ladies out there of any age. Mid calf needs a pencil skirt and stilettoes etc. A skirt just slightly above the knee and maybe with a slit that can become more daring at night works best. Mid calf is not flattering since it cuts the line from your hips, to your knees to your ankles. You need perfect calfs for mid calf length, no room for error. Sometimes a guy knows best. Now in Fall and Winter try it with stockings with a seam and Cuban heel.

Holly Thomas: Thanks for chiming in! Seamed stockings are venturing back into retro territory, maybe even a bit costume-y, but if you like the look, go for it...

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A hemline that hits at mid-calf is possibly the most unflattering: Not even close. TOO SHORT is the most unflattering by far.

Holly Thomas: Let's call it a truce and say they're equally bad.

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beach coverups: I would suggest that the Belize traveler purchase a sarong when she gets there. If you're in a resort area, you'll find shops selling them. They're great for coverups as well as beach blankets, plus they dry quickly.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Like that idea and like sarongs. Plus, would make a nice souvenir from the trip. Thanks for the suggestion.

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hemline that hits at mid-calf is unflattering: ? Tell that to Grace Kelly and other movie stars. It's a beautiful length on tall women. Short women have to worry about looking stubby, but that's because of their height, not because of the skirt.

Holly Thomas: It's hard to argue with Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, but let's keep in mind that they were getting dressed 50 years ago, and that was the prevalent style at the time. And not to mention, they had absolutely perfect figures. My advice, again, is directed to women who want to flatter their figures, and a skirt that highlights the widest part of your leg is not the way to do that.

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threading question: I'm indian and absolutely love getting my eyebrows threaded.....much less painful and lasts longer than waxing! I would suggest looking for indian salons in your area, there are a ton of them. They usually charge about 7 or 8 dollars and once you start threading, you will not go back to waxing!

Holly Thomas: Thanks for this!

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one more travel beauty tip: I keep make-up removing, facial cleansing cloths on-hand for travel (the dry kind that lather when you wet them, Dove and Olay make them). They are a breeze to pack and help eliminate liquids, which can be annoying if flying (and they won't leak!).

Holly Thomas: Great tip -- thank you!

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vacation packing: I always throw in a small, cute, foldable bag, which comes in handy for use as a shopping tote, extra carry-on, bag for kids' stuff, beach bag, etc. I like Envirosax and Reisenthel brands, which are inexpensive and have great-looking patterns.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Don't know Reisenthel, but I'm a big fan of Envirosax's patterns. Thanks for the suggestion.

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Packing Tips: I travel pretty frequently, and like you, I keep my toiletries bag with sample sizes in my suitcase at all time. Also, I buy travel sizes of my favorite products whenever I can find them, and stash them in the suitcase, even if there is no foreseeable trip on the horizon. I also throw a couple of sachets in my suitcase when not in use, to keep it smelling fresh. When I pack, I always pack items like shampoo bottles or my mini flatiron in my running shoes. I pack really small items like underwear, socks, tights, etc. in my dress shoes/boots, which saves space and helps keeps the shoe's shape. I put items like undies and tights in a plastic bag first, before putting them in the shoes. I also use those little packets of Woolite on long trips to handwash items in the sink. Boy, do those come in handy! And finally, scarves and jewelry are definitely your friends. I can usually get away with taking only one black dress, which I then dress up or down with different shoes, jackets, scarves and jewelry. Add in a pair of jeans and a couple of knit tops, and you are ready to go!

Holly Thomas: Tons of helpful advice here, especially regarding the travel packs of Woolite!

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Re:Threading: I have been threading my eyebrows since 8th grade and well now I am a young professional. It took me a while to find someone here in DC that I trust my eyebrows with, but I HIGHLY recommend Rani. She just recently opened up a new studio out on 37th & Macomb called Imago Wellness Studio & Spa. She is really good and very friendly. I would also recommend, going in knowing what you want (as in thicker in the beginning, thinner out at the end or even letting some area grown a bit more etc etc), because she appreciates tips/comments like that and WILL listen to you!

Janet Bennett Kelly: For the woman in search of a person who does threading, this chatter suggests Rani at Imago Wellness Studio & Spa. Thanks much.

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How and What to Pack: My tried and true method is to make a packing list. Then about a week before vacation, lay it all out somewhere (I just throw it in a laundry basket). The over the week, as I think about what I'm taking, I slowly put things away. Then by the time I'm actually ready to pack, I'm down to a normal amount of clothes and shoes. I still overpack, I can't help that, but at least now it's only by a few items.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Good thought. For anyone else who's prone to taking too much, heed the advice from this chatter.

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Button-down shirts for top-heavy women: I like the look of a nice button-down shirt, but am top-heavy (large shoulders and busty with a small waist), and anything that doesn't pull at the buttons up top is too baggy in the waist, which makes me look sloppy and heavier than I am. I am willing to pay to have something tailored, but I think I need something with front and back darts that is already fairly fitted to make that work. All fabric types are possibilities. Any suggestions on where to look, or specific shirts that might work?

Holly Thomas: You might want to check out Rebecca & Drew, a shirt line that sizes by chest circumference, bra cup size and height. They're on the pricey side, but it might be worth it to have one perfect white shirt.

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Dior's opinion on calf-length: Christian Dior once said that the most flattering length was right at the point where the calf started to slim down. Of course, one inch off and the whole proportion was ruined. If you want to go for this look you need to get the dress hemmed at just the right point, in the same heels you'll wear the dress with.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Here's what one chatter says Christian Dior had to say about skirt lengths.

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vacation packing: I've found that if you roll your clothes instead of folding them, you not only take up less space thus not needing that HUGE suitcase, but clothes will also end up less wrinkled. I managed a 2 week trip overseas a few years ago with nothing but a carry-on sized rolling bag.

Janet Bennett Kelly: More input from other chatters?

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In search of...: I'm looking for a casual white t-shirt dress. Short sleeved or cap sleeved, hitting slightly above the knee. I'd like it to be semi-form fitting. Also - no see-through dresses! What is wrong with designers making totally see-through dresses?! Any ideas where I could find such a dress? I've check H&M, Anthropologie, Banana, JCrew, Loft, American Apparel... even Victoria's Secret! The only things I seem to be able to find that look like they aren't sheer are over $200, which I am not willing to spend on a t-shirt dress. Any ideas?

Holly Thomas: What about this one from Mink Pink for $86? I love the criss-cross design. This one's on sale for $75 but it might be a bit sheer -- a nude slip is something every woman should own. Asos.com has a fair amount of options, too -- here's one to start. And a side note, sometimes a first washing takes away some of the sheerness.

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Threading: Threading is wonderful. There is a DC chain called Threads, with locations at McPherson Square, U St, and Bethesda. I have gone to the McP Sq and Bethesda ones, and both have done good jobs. One thing I like about threading is that since most of the threaders are South Asian, they will not make your eyebrows overly thin, since heavy brows are considered more attractive in South Asia. I've also seen a threading booth at Montomery Mall, oddly, but never tried it. Finally, there is a woman named Natasha who used to work at Threads but has branched off on her own, and has a place near Dupont Circle. I don't have her info, but you might be able to find her using Google. I think she does a lot of GW students.

Janet Bennett Kelly: More suggestions for the chatter who'd like to have her brows threaded. Thanks for chiming in.

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Christian Dior once said that the most flattering length was right at the point where the calf started to slim down: He said what I was trying to say: If you have shapely calves, that length accentuates the curves.

Holly Thomas: The secret (to figure-flattery, not silver-screen iconic style) is to highlight the slimmest part of your leg, which for most women, is just above the knee where the thigh tapers in, just below the knee before the calf becomes fuller, and just above the ankle where the calf tapers in again.

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Makeup help: I am going to be a bridesmaid in a wedding in two weeks. The bride selected bright watermelon dresses for us to wear (as well as matching shoes and a chiffon shrug). I am at a complete loss as to what colors to wear for makeup. I have blue eyes and very fair skin. Normally I'd go with blue or purple eyeshadow and a light pink lip, but I feel like these will clash with the bright pink outfit, and green might make me look like an actual watermelon. Please help!

Janet Bennett Kelly: That's a lot of watermelon for one outfit. Still, I think you could get away with your blue shadow -- you might want to choose a pale shade of blue, rather than something bold, though. And as for lips, how about a pink with a hint of coral in it.

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Threading: A great salon run by an Indian (Southeast Asian?--not sure) woman is Dupont Threading. The owner/lead threader's name is Nitasha and she does a wonderful job. It's only $12 for eyebrows, and they have a punchcard for a free threading after 10 visits.

Janet Bennett Kelly: Another place that does threading!

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Packing: One word: Spreadsheet. I attend a yearly conference that is somewhat wardrobe intensive (biz casual for daytime, cocktail-y in the evenings, resort-y...) and started doing a spreadsheet a few years ago with day/event columns, and start with a "what I would pack if my space was unlimited" wishlist, then pare from there - "gee, those black pants will work on Day 1 and Day 3" - until I get the list down to a manageable size. It helps me from overpacking things like shoes - if I see I'm going to wear a certain pair for one event only, then I rethink things to eliminate that pair. And once it's set up, you can just recycle from trip to trip. My friends thought I was nuts until they tried it!

Janet Bennett Kelly: Now, that's what I call super-organized. A spread sheet!

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Plaid skirts: Help me, fashionistas, you're my only hope!I am looking for an exceptionally tacky plaid schoolgirl-type skirt. Red plaid. Two of them, to be precise, for a matching costume--which rules out go-tos such as thrift stores and secondhand shops. I have tried: Aeropostale, H&M, Macy's, Express, Forever 21, Target, J.C. Penney's, Old Navy, New York and Company, and innumerable online searches.Finally, in disgust and horror, I deigned to enter Hot Topic... and discovered, to my shock, that they only have them in black and white. I said, "What is this world coming to when one can't even find a tacky schoolgirl skirt at Hot Topic?"So. Help? Please?

Holly Thomas: One word: Amazon. I just found several red-plaid options that I'm afraid to click on lest the IT department come over and confiscate my PC. But I'm guessing that's the look you're going for ...

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Beach Coverups: Lands End has some great hooded (or not) coverups in soft knit cottons and great colors. Plus, they are inexpensive!

Holly Thomas: Thanks!

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More on shorts: The last time I was at Old Navy, they had a great selection of shorts ranging from rather short to Bermuda length (if the poster doesn't want to pay J. Crew prices). I'd also say that while ridiculously short shorts are never a good idea, those of us with smaller thighs look better in shorter shorts. Whenever I try to buy the 5 inch length, there's simply too much fabric!

Holly Thomas: Thanks for tuning in!

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Holly Thomas: Thanks to everyone who tuned in to Fashion Fix -- we love hearing from you! Today, the super-organized chatter who relies on a spreadsheet when packing gets the manicure kit; and the chatter who originally asked about threading (sparking a very helpful conversation!) gets a copy of Laura Bennett's book. Email your mailing info to fashion@washpost.com and we'll get those out to you. And we'll see you all next week -- same time, same place!


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