Dear Answer Angel Ellen: A fashionable friend who lives in Paris knows I like to keep up with the street fashion there. She sent me some phone photos she took of random women who looked especially great wearing a simple leather belt in black with a circular metal buckle - nothing flashy. French women are wearing a belt at their true waistline with dresses, skirts, pants and even over sweaters. Is this something that is suitable for all women, or is it just for French women who seem to dress with flair no matter their age or circumference?
- Candace G.
Dear Candace: Go for it! No matter what age or dimensions you are, a handsome belt can amp up your look. I checked with my friend Patricia Tennison, who spends part of every year in Paris running writers' workshops (pariscafewriting.com). Patty tells me that the belt thing is huge this fall in Paris and sent me a link to a French chain store, ba&sh (ba-sh.com), to illustrate her point. The "Camus belt" shown on the website is all leather, 1.5 inches wide and goes for $135, which is way over my budget (and hers). This prompted both of us to go shopping for a look-alike at a bargain rate. I bought one by Nine West at a Marshalls for under $15. Granted it's 100% polyurethane, but it looks like leather to me. Before leaving for Paris, Patty scored a Steve Madden reversible (black/white) at Macy's for $34 that looked nearly identical to the French one. She reports she'll be wearing it on the streets of Paris any day now. Faux leather nowadays looks so much like the real thing and is, in many cases, just as durable - as vegans discovered some time ago. I've looked for quality belts in thrift stores across the country, and they're snapped up so fast by sharp shoppers that I've not had much luck. But that shouldn't stop you from continuing to try to find one when strolling the aisles at Goodwill et al. One final point: Curvy women often think that a belt at the waist is not flattering, but the truth is quite the opposite. They have a slimming effect, especially on a garment that is loosely draped. Try it!
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: You know that "We Can Do It" Rosie the Riveter poster? I'm seeing a lot of boiler suits (mechanic suits?) a la Rosie on fashion sites and stores like J. Crew, and even in department stores. We used to call them jumpsuits, but ... whatever. These seem to be made of heavier, industrial-looking material and I wonder what you think of them?
- Mandy S.
Dear Mandy: Whatever you call them, this all-in-one-piece garment sure makes getting dressed easy in the morning. Wrestling with it in the restroom is a different matter. I've been attracted to jumpsuits and their ilk for a long time (I've got three in black), so when I saw "The Modern Utility Jumpsuit" for $100 on everlane.com I ordered one. Even in a size 6 it was huge, baggie and unflattering. The material was heavy and it made me look twice my size, especially the rear view, if you get my drift. The many pockets of these boiler suits are a huge draw, but my best advice is that you look at yourself in a three-way mirror before you buy. Many of these come with a self-fabric tie at the waist. A belt like the one mentioned in the answer to Candace (above) would help reduce the bag factor.
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I love the color maroon. It is my favorite and I know I look good in it. I've got shoes, shirts, socks, pants, shorts, a jacket, a tracksuit - all maroon. I can't seem to break out of it and add other colors to my admittedly limited wardrobe. Should I be looking into something else? If so, what?
- Steve J.
Dear Steve: We all get stuck in a rut. In the grand scheme, yours is pretty benign. But sure, yes, you'd be well served by adding some variation to your wardrobe. It doesn't have to be dramatic - that doesn't sound like your style. Little by little introduce some other colors into your clothes palette. Maroon (aka burgundy) goes well with neutral shades like white, cream, beige, khaki and olive. Navy is a good basic choice to pair with maroon too. Consider a pale yellow button front shirt. Even some socks in a maroon stripe with other colors would be a good start.