Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I have been invited to a black-tie dinner at a fancy private club. Is a knee-length dress acceptable attire? The dress I would wear is sleeveless, decorated with rhinestones around the neckline and around the edges of the three-quarter-sleeve bolero jacket. It is a fairly straight sheath with an extra shirred panel over the skirt, dark royal blue. Please answer soon, because if I need a floor-length evening gown I have to buy one, or beg, borrow or steal one!
Dear Elizabeth: You're right to be confused. Who isn't? In an era when people wear shorts to religious services and don't bother to remove baseball caps in the fanciest restaurants, it's pretty hard to figure out what is acceptable or appropriate for a formal event. In this case you're fine with a short dress. I know this because I called the club (thanks for giving me the name) and asked if a short dress is OK. "There's always a mix of long and short," I was told by one of the staffers who has attended the event. When in doubt, my advice is don't be shy: Pick up the phone and ask the club, the party host, the bride, etc. Not so sure you want to take the direct approach? The folks at the etiquette website emilypost.com say that a floor-length evening gown, a dressy cocktail dress or your dressiest "little black dress" are all proper party attire for events labeled "black tie." The website also parses the mysteries of dressing for a wide array of other occasions. By the way, at your upcoming dinner, don't be surprised if guests show up in all sorts of get-ups that are totally wrong for the occasion. At least now you won't be one of them!
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: We are in the season of dark clothes, and I find myself using Woolite Darks on a weekly basis. It works quite well but is a bit expensive. Have you come across a more economical alternative?
— J. D.
Dear J.D.: I use baby shampoo in cold water for all my hand-washing. It's gentle and inexpensive, and a little goes a long way. I am fanatical about using it on my cashmere (especially the dark sweaters) because, after drying them flat — press out the water, don't wring — they are so soft. I'll never dry-clean cashmere again since it comes back crunchy, which is the opposite of how cashmere should feel!
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I recently found a pair of bell-bottom pants at the back of my closet — yes, I once wore them and thought I looked terribly chic at the time. Amazingly, they still fit, and I'm thinking about giving them a new turn in life. I realize bell-bottoms aren't "in" anymore, but as I get older I feel less inclined to follow any kind of arbitrary rules. What do you think about bringing back something that's out of date even if it's not fashionable?
— Clothes Call
Dear Clothes Call: Who says bell-bottoms aren't in? Call 'em palazzo pants and you're right in style. Here's a big headline from the November issue of Lucky magazine: "Break the Rules." "The only rule Lucky is sticking to is that there are no rules," the fashion-savvy editors declare. I totally agree. Eclectic, retro, vintage, repurposed. Those are all adjectives applied to the wardrobe choices of today's most fashionable women. You're in great company.
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: Do you remember bra slips? That efficient combination of a bra and a slip? I know that Spanx has a number that encases the body with a bra-and-girdle-like structure that covers the body from the bosom to the booty and thighs, but that is too confining for me. Do you have any idea if any company makes the bra slip? It was always great to have just one set of straps to deal with, and the slip never had to be tugged or tucked to stay in place. I would kill for one of those, especially with a sweater dress. Do let me know!
— Barbara Y.
Dear Barbara: What a great idea for one-stop underwear. Of course they don't make them anymore. At least I can't find them, except vintage ones on ebay.com. In fact, good luck even finding a regular old full slip for sale in stores today. I once went on a mission to find one and came back empty-handed. Full slips are still available online, and there are pretty ones at remarkable prices at National ("living the comfortable life"), shopnational.com.
To a reader who asked for help with thinning hair, M.B. ("I'm a veteran hairstylist AND I have had thin, fine hair all my life") says that Thicker Fuller Hair Instantly Thick Serum ($6.99/5 ounces, drugstore.com) works magic. "Without it, my hair lays flat and looks like the hair of a 2-year-old!"
And reader Bobby promises Crocs for persistent heel pain: "Believe me, they work."
Dear Bobby: I'll grant you that Crocs now makes a lot of styles beyond those classic (so ugly) clogs. But they're still pretty horrible to look at. If they cure pain, great. But, like you, I'd just wear them in the confines of my home.
I can't be the only one whose eyes bugged out at the Chanel ads in the fall fashion magazines. Good lord, one of the (female) models has a definite, dark, pencil-thin mustache. Please don't tell me that women's facial hair is now in vogue! And, while I'm at it, what's with the greasy, stringy hair on the models in the Prada ads? They look like they've stuck their heads in a barrel of salad oil!
Dear Ewww: The ads got your attention and that's the whole point. But I'm with you: The models look grotesque. Show up with greasy hair and a mustache at your next book club meeting and I guarantee they'll be talking about you (and it won't be about your high-fashion sense).
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