Work wardrobes that won't break the bank
Stretching your closet and looking your best on a budget. Also: how to show a little leg at weddings without veering into the inappropriate.
(Illustration for the Tribune by Elaine Melko / July 1, 2011)
Dear Answer Angel: I've built a work wardrobe over the years and need to update it. I work out of my home, so everyday outfits are casual. For client meetings, I need business casual, and occasionally I need dressier outfits for dinners or conferences. My biggest problem is that I often feel as if I have half an outfit: great pants and blouse, but the wrong shoes, belt or jacket — so the overall look isn't great.
— Kate B.
Dear Kate: I think we all look into our closets and wonder why we don't have anything to wear. To answer your question I turned to Ford Artists stylist Suzanne Kopulos, co-founder of the fashion site garmental.com. She suggests an alternative to all those pieces that don't quite turn into an outfit: a dress. I totally agree. Nothing could be easier.
Even as I type this, I'm wearing a really cute Pucci-esque print — perfect for work, meetings, cocktails — that I bought at Dressbarn (dressbarn.com), where I've had good luck finding versatile all-season standouts for $50 and under. Another great source? Check out the Norma Kamali dresses for $20 at Walmart (walmart.com). I have a half dozen. Can't beat the 97-cent shipping charge!
To add to your "wardrobe on a budget" a little at a time, Kopulos says invest in high quality pumps and a killer purse that can double as a briefcase to hold files, legal pad, etc. You can't go wrong with black, but a muted bronze neutral adds a little shine and goes with everything. I know because I wear my matte metallic ballet flats almost every day. One more thing. Take your own pieces (trousers, skirt etc.) with you when shopping to try on with jackets and tops to go with them.
Dear Answer Angel: In the winter I wear knee-length skirts with opaque tights to hide the noticeable veins on my legs. For the last few summers, though, I have been wearing slacks (even to weddings) or capris exclusively. Is there any way I can wear a cute cotton skirt or sundress this summer? Bare legs are de rigueur for young women, but what should older women do? I have another wedding coming up and would love to wear a short cocktail dress for a change.
Dear Nancy: You definitely are going to be rocking short cocktail wear, cute cotton skirts and sundresses this summer. Here's why: an airbrush tan. Just do an Internet search for "spray on tan" and you'll find many salons offer this service. Some will even come to your house. Prices vary a lot (comparison shop!), but you're probably looking at upwards of $50 for a sunless tan that will fade gradually over a week or so. Plan ahead. The tan looks better on day two, and for best results you shouldn't shower for eight hours after the treatment.
Dear Answer Angel: I have to go to a wedding next month. I haven't gone to a wedding in ages. I found a dress I think I can be seen in. I needed sleeves, and there are almost no dresses with sleeves. I really prefer a pants suit but just didn't see one that made sense for a summer wedding.
I can't even remember the last time I wore a dress. My legs should not be seen in public. Anyway I have a black knit dress with gathering in the right places for my challenging figure. I found really cute black patent leather, open-toe shoes. But now I realize that I probably need closed toes shoes if I want to wear hose. I know it's a very controversial topic. Please let me know what the rule is.
Dear Jill: Stop! Do not wear stockings with open toe (or open back) shoes. That is so wrong. The salon spray tan is an option. Otherwise, new shoes for you. You didn't ask, but you're right. It's perfectly fine nowadays to wear black to a wedding. Finally, it wasn't a question but a rant, and I agree totally: Why don't stores wise up and stock summer dresses with sleeves? The vast majority of women do not have arms like Michelle Obama!
Dear Answer Angel: Please help! We have a big debate in our family, and I am in the minority. I have been to parties where the guest of honor says, "Your party favor is my 'thank you,'" and he or she is not going to send written thank-you notes. I say if you go to a party and bring a gift (wedding, wedding shower, birthday, anniversary) you should get a written thank-you note. The rest of my family says, "No. I think that's just tacky and rude." What do you think?
— Note Lover
Dear Note Lover: I think it's tacky and rude too. If you receive a gift, you should send a thoughtful handwritten note via U.S. mail, not email. Period. On the flip side, if you give a gift it is perfectly OK to tell the recipient, "I'm giving you 'thank-you note immunity,' and you don't need to send a note." Personally, I never do that because I love receiving thank-you notes in the mail. Writing meaningful, personalized notes is an art. I bet you're good at it!
Dear Answer Angel: Is there a way to protect your neckline (coats, blouse collars, shirts) from those unsightly makeup stains? Is there a product out there that you can spray to protect the fabric?
Dear Jean: No. That's why, in TV scenes where someone (usually a man) is being made up professionally, tissues are tucked in around his collar to prevent makeup stains. That works for women too but a better suggestion is to apply your makeup before you get dressed. The key is to avoid putting makeup on the neck area that will touch your clothes. Then, if you're putting on clothing that goes over your head, put a shower cap over your face to prevent rub-off onto your blouse, sweater or dress. (It's a little suffocating, but it works.)
Shop drop, get help: You have problems? Who doesn't? You have an angel (with attitude) on your shoulder. Send your questions — on style, shopping, etiquette, beauty to firstname.lastname@example.org.