Editor’s Note: Washingtonian Online moderators and hosts retain editorial control over chats and choose the most relevant questions; hosts can decline to answer questions.
Our fashion chat a few weeks ago was such a success that we’ve invited two of our favorite Washington fashion bloggers (and Washingtonian.com contributors) Rachel Cothran and Betsy Lowther back for another chat on all things fashion and shopping on Friday, June 13, at 1 PM.
You might know Rachel from her popular fashion photography blog, Project Beltway, where she snaps pictures of fashionable people on the streets of Washington. Betsy comes to Washington via a stint in Asia, where she filled in readers on the best shops and fashion from Toyko to Singapore. When she’s not showing up at style events around town in one of her signature vintage dresses, she’s penning sartorial advice for her blog, FashionIsSpinach.com.
Ask them about everything from their favorite local tailors to what’s trendy for summer to their style inspirations. Submit a question in advance, and check back in on Friday for the live chat.
Meanwhile, you can check out fashion coverage on our blog, Shop Around.
Betsy: The Clarisonic looks completely fascinating, doesn't it? (For those of you unfamiliar with it, here's one of those glowing online reviews.) However, I'm a bit of a beauty skeptic – I almost never shell out the money unless I *know* it's going to work. I'm much more of a clotheshorse; my first reaction is, "oooooh, for that $200 I could definitely get some cute new shoes."
Which is probably why I still swear by basic drugstore products like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash and their Oil-Free SPF 15 moisturizer. (And yes, I have gone through periods of devotion to high-end skincare routines – most recently, the Cle de Peau Beaute regimen, which was pretty fabulous – but I always come back to my Neutrogena. It just works for me.) I also use the Boots No. 7 Restore & Renew eye cream, so I'm not immune to a little beauty hype. But to be honest, I have no idea if it's actually working.
Makeup-wise, I'm really a clear-skin-and-rosy-flush, less-is-more kind of gal, so I never get too crazy. I'm a Benefit Benetint devotee (and completely intrigued by their new Posietint product). My powder base of choice is MAC's Studio Perfect, which I just found out is not sold in the US, which is a huge shame – it has pretty great, light coverage with SPF 15 built in. I actually love the effect of using a primer, like Smashbox Photo Finish, which gives my skin an added smoothness and makes makeup apply much more evenly.
Rachel: Whoa...it's like an automatic toothbrush for your face! That's....cool. And also weird, so naturally I'm dying to try it now. But, as I'm sure you're thinking, isn't a decent exfoliant and a good cleanser enough?! Is this just ANOTHER expensive beauty product women are being told is suddenly essential to their daily routines? I'm hardly the person to ask though, because my beauty routine tends to rely on the generous sponsors of swag bags from local events. This naturally makes me very fickle and penny-conscious about the products I use. This doesn't work with every product unfortunately - no one ever seems to throw in conditioner for instance - but I have so many anti-aging potions and creams that I'll (hopefully) look 26 until I'm 40.
I can definitely relate to your curiosity about other people's skincare, because I'm always a little paranoid that I'm not using the right products or enough moisturizer, so I read Capitol Hill Barbie with a sort of curious amazement (girl, calll meeee). When I went to the People pre-party over the White House Correspondents Association weekend (photos here), I left with a hefty goodie bag that contains some products I'm really loving and may even buy for myself when they run out (!!!), including Profound Beauty "Hush" Frizz Zero Spray and suki lemongrass cleanser, which is so much fun to use because it starts out all gritty and then melts and foams a little as you massage it onto your skin. The District Sample Sale also has a good goodie bag, and I've been using this Cibu Pho Finish Workable Finishing Spray to get that piecey look that's perfect for the days when I don't feel like blow-drying. Which is um, kind of all the time. The DSS sale is also responsible for turning me on to Phyto phytodefrisant, another anti-frizz goo that I adore.
A few beauty products I cannot live without: Vaseline - as a lip moisturizer and in-a-pinch brow tamer, makeup remover, The Body Shop Musk body lotion, and - most essentially - Rose Pink facial blotting tissues, also from The Body Shop. I break into a nervous sweat if I leave the house without them!
Betsy: Honestly, I get a ton of my work-y dresses at Filene's and Zara (of course, I don't go into an office everyday, so I'm definitely less well-versed in this area). In general, I'm loving the slim-cut belted sheaths that are popping up everywhere right now. My general criteria for a summer work outfit is this: Short sleeved; lightweight cotton or a breathable synthetic like nylon; and dark colors. The dark part is pretty key, because if you do end up getting a little sweaty, it won't show. Sometimes, these things just can't be helped, after all.
Option #2: Try a skirt (I like the pleated circle style that a lot of places are carrying now – it's professional, but stylish) and a light blouse. For the commute, you can wear a basic plain tee, then switch to the nicer top after you arrive at the office.
Rachel: I used to walk to work every day too, and this heat usually had me melting oh, about 8 minutes in. For affordable work clothes, you can't beat places like H&M and Forever 21 of course, but I'd also suggest hitting up boutiques like Pop (1803 14th Street) and Nana (1528 U...can you tell where I live!?). Pop's prices are particularly good. But to answer the most important part of your question - staying at sweat-free as possible - I say go with anything and everything LINEN. Linen is the best thing that to ever happen to the walking, working woman. How about a linen shirtdress?
I have a flouncy tan linen skirt from Banana Republic that looks great paired with wedge sandals (which incidentally, I'm currently hunting for) and something crisp and structured up top, like a tailored white shirt. I also love linen pants - I have a white pair that's pretty, but you'll be hard-pressed to find white ones that aren't lined (which ruins the cooling aspect). If you do, grab a pair! White linen is gorgeous. I also have a tan pair and a blue sailor-cut pair from Anthropologie (they're having some good sales right now, I've noticed).A fit recommendation when buying linen: bite the bullet and buy snug, because linen stretches at least a size as you wear it. I also have a tan pair and a blue sailor-cut pair from Anthropologie....and they're having some good sales right now, I've noticed.
Betsy: I'm sorry to say I cannot! At nearly 6 feet tall, I am on the opposite end of petite and don't know much about dressing for a shorter body. That said, I'd look very closely at finding a flattering cut through the hip and thigh -- a good tailor can help you hem them to your height, so that should be your last concern.
Rachel: I had to ask a few friends about this one, because, at 5'7, I am most definitely NOT petite and I know Betsy isn't either! I hear Citizens makes a petite which is just a bit shorter in the leg length. If you're little-but-curvy, try Women brand jeans and have them shortened. Plenty of tailors do what's often referred to as a "European hem" - where they salvage the jean hem, shorten to your desired length, and then re-attach the hem. It's so nifty, and worth the $15 or so it typically costs. Esteem Cleaners costs a little more ($19) but it's so worth it. Their address is 2100 Penn Avenue (202 429-0591). ....my petite friend from NYC, Joanna just wrote me these recommendations: J Brand skinnies are perfect really cute and just stretchy enough to hug every curve while the elastic keeps you slim! Also, Frankie B is perfect but harder to find. Click on over to http://frankieb.com/.
Betsy: The shoe and bag repair place I've been using is Corrective Shoe Repair at 22nd and P streets. (Love their oversized front door!) It's pricey, but they do a very good job. A friend recently did some serious damage to a beloved designer pair, and took them to the cobbler at 17th & M (next to AEI – unfortunately, I don't know the name). They did an amazing job with a complicated repair.
After months of asking around with some desperation for a good tailor, I'm finally trying out the frequently recommended Alicia at Imperial Valet (1331 Connecticut Ave NW, just south of Dupont Circle). She is supposed to be great, but she's also pricey (which is fine by me when it's a special item, but I'm still looking for a basic, less expensive tailor for simple stitch repair and hemming). I just dropped off two dresses to be hemmed earlier this week and it will cost $20 each. If it goes well, I'll bring her some more complicated pieces next – I like to do a trial run first before entrusting anyone with my Prada.
Your friendly local dry-cleaner should be able to do basic repairs for not too much money as well.
Rachel: I adore the guy at American Valet in Tenleytown. It's a total mom-and-pop place that's been there for at least 50 years, and while I can't for the life of me remember the man's name who owns it, he is fantastic. Once you go regularly enough, he offers to let you park around back and walk through the rear entrance, through the piles of clothes and old shoes. It's not really necessary though, because he also validates the parking from the Whole Foods parking garage, which is right next door. I take all of my shoes there and I have since college. That reminds me that I need to bring over my aviators!
Several years ago, I bought a pair of gorgeous tall leather boots from a J.Crew tent sale in the Outer Banks for something insane like $9 (note to anyone going there this summer: call the Barr-ee Station in Duck and ask them when it is and if it's happening when you're there, go - and wear a bathing suit to try stuff on. WORTH IT.). Also insane was the fact that they had wooden stiletto heels which I thought were totally ridiculous. I brought them over to American Valet and asked him what could be done. He walked me through a few options and even called me to talk them over more. They ended up totally replacing the heel with a more substantial version. It was $50 but really worth it.
Okay, now on to tailors. For small things like hems and such, I actually think the guy at Zips in Van Ness does a fine job and it's pretty inexpensive. Another friend of mine likes Alicia from Imperial Valet on Connecticut. Linea Pitti is other place that did some intricate alterations to a vintage lace shirt for one of my friends. He also took a skirt from a size 8 down to a size 4 for another friend. It was big job since there was grosgrain ribbon on the side. The address is 2128 P Street (202 223 4443). In Bethesda, try Montgomery Tailor in Montgomery Mall. I hear they can fix anything (hat tip to Joyce of Be That Mom!)
Betsy: I sort of answered this last time, and I'll stand by my original thoughts: Definitely a handbag. I think you can get cute jeans and shoes at reasonable prices nowadays (and I'm not much of an expensive jewelry person myself), but a well-made, high-quality handbag -- which, unlike all of the others, you'll probably wear nearly every day -- is something that's worth the investment.
Rachel: This question, or one relatively close to it, came up in the last chat and I wasn't surprised to see that Betsy and I had pretty similar takes: I would say a great handbag. Jeans are easy enough to find low-cost or secondhand in great shape on consignment, but even if you "invest" in them, they don't necessarily last as long as a quality leather bag. Plus, you can search around for one that really suits your lifestyle and personality and it can become your signature (think Rachle Bilson with her ubiquitous Zac Posen bag). The very LAST thing I'd invest in would be jewelry actually. I adore vintage and costume styles so much. They're the little splurges you can treat yourself too after you've blown your budget on a bag.
Betsy: I am a huge fan of the Calvin Klein "Tassie" model that was released last fall. I practically live in mine, especially on days when I'm walking to meetings around the city. It's has a quilted patent texture, and has just a slight sliver heel for extra cushioning and a little bit of comfy height. You can still get it on Zappos -- though unfortunately, they're still charging full price.
Rachel: Oooh, I hope Betsy has some recommendations because I'd love to know some good brands. I own a few pairs and need some more myself! All the stars seem to wear Repetto, but they are star-priced for sure. I do know that Shoefly carries inexpensive options, but I don't have one favored brand.
Betsy: This summer is all about brights, especially colors like lemon yellow, hot pink, deep lilac and royal blue. I personally bought a hot pink work tote to jazz up my summer wardrobe – I don't think you need to go overboard, but a few bright, bold items will look really fun and summery.
Rachel: I think it's all about the way things are paired more than which color. All sorts of colors are in right now, particularly brights and anything sheer, especially layered over those brights. Think about interesting color combos: bright pink with bright orange, bright pink with red. Oversize floral patterns are fun too. Check out style.com's Spring 2008 shows for inspiration.
Betsy: Well, it does depend a bit on the kind of skirt, but lucky for you, there are a lot of super-cute flat sandal options this summer. I was up at The Little Shoebox in Bethesda yesterday, and fell in love with the Tibi Verushka circle sandals (on sale at Net-a-Porter) – they're about as versatile and chic as you can get in a low heeled sandal.
I also like some of the fun, flower-y flat sandals out now – like this Steve Madden black satin Blosommm model, which you could totally wear with summery skirts. Here's a scoop: I stopped in the Friendship Heights Loehmann's last night, and they had a really similar flip-flop version for $30 in silver, copper and black. They had a lot in stock, but sadly, not in my size. Go! Run! Look cute!
If you can handle a heel, I love the kitten-heeled peep-toes that are everywhere. I like how a little peep-toe makes a shoe summery without being as casual as a sandal.
Rachel: One word for you my friend: WEDGES. Buy yourself a pair or five and you will thank me, I guarantee. Wedges have been very much on my mind as of late since I wore out my trusty muted metallic gold pair last season. So that's one piece of advice: a pair in a metallic shade is a pretty and soft take on a neutral, so they'll go with anything and everything without looking too severe for the season. Another tip about wedges: look for a pair that's got a slight curve on the sides and back of the wedge itself. Otherwise, you look like you've got a big heavy brick attached to your foot, and it'll probably feel that way too. Wedges look fantastic with skirts, but I wouldn't shy away from flats completely - they can look really chic, especially when paired with shorter skirts (remember this tip always for shoes: the shorter the skirt or dress hem, the lower the heel can - and often should - be). So if you've got the gams for an above-the-knee skirt, grab some comfy flats (I'd steer clear of the pointy-toed variety for now) and be on your stylish way!
Betsy: I have three strategies when it come to bathing suits. 1) Pick up a slew of coordinating separates every season and Target and Old Navy (surprisingly, they have a ton of options in a wide range of cuts – and they're so cheap, you can stock up for multiple kinds of swimwear occasions). 2) Head to a major, well-stocked department store – like Nordstrom's or Macy's – where you can easily try on a bunch of different models in a short timeframe. 3) Never, ever go bathing suit shopping after a big meal. That one's kind of a no-brainer.
Really, a major department store is your best bet for selection and range. But don't forget about checking online too – upscale stores like Neiman Marcus have a online selection and let you return swimsuits (er, I think they still do. Double check that before you hold me liable.). My current swim obsession are the gorgeous, retro-style (and reasonably priced!) suits from Esther Williams swimsuits, which were raved about on the great blog Daddy Likey. They look flattering and fantastic and I totally want one.
Rachel: Speaking of retro suits, I just picked up the most insanely fabulous one-piece suit at Annie Creamcheese the other week. You might check there if you're interested in something like that - her stock changes all the time. In general, I find J. Crew suits to be a little boring and not worth the $$. My friend Liberty (best name ever, right!?) likes Brazilian suits and favors Poko Pano and Salinas. For a cheap thrill, pop into H&M!
Betsy: Right now, fashion is so all-encompassing that not much is really "in" or "out" anymore – though to be perfectly honest, I am a little tired of animal prints right now. I think the key is to wear them sparingly and occasionally – one item (simple flats or a clutch purse) from time to time does not signal "cat lady" to me. Unless you also own a lot of cats, to which you might have had that distinction already.
Rachel: It's funny that you bring up safari style and animal prints - just the other day I was thinking about "trends" that actually never seem to really go out of style. So basically, I think that both safari looks (short, belted khaki trenches, linen, etc.) and animal prints (zebra and cheetah and lion, oh my!) are, whether you like the styles or not, two examples of those. Certainly, the safari look is best left to the warm summer months, and as my earlier praise over linen supports, there's a reason safari styles are always relevant in the summer months: the looks are incredibly wearable due to the breathable fabrics and easy-to-wear- and-pair neutrals. Certain animal prints end up becoming more "trendy" than others. My friend Carrie has a great pair of peep-toe zebra shoes she wears with her work basics and it really jazzes up an outfit. So really, the key is to keep your animal-themed items to one per outfit, or else...yes, you will end up looking like a cat lady.
Rachel: Oooh, this is where Betsy and I really excel. I love the thrill of the hunt! Meeps over on 18th Street in Adams Morgan usually has at least one or two great gems, and their stuff is totally affordable. After that, head up the street to Mercedes Bien, which is next to and upstairs from Amsterdam Falafel. I just mentioned Annie Creamcheese, but I'm addicted to it. Stick to the right side of the store if you're on a budget.
Betsy: I'm a huge thrifter myself, but the thing about thrift stores is that you have to be patient and go often, because the selection changes every time. One day you might find five fabulous things, and then the next three times you find absolutely zilch. The non-consignment vintage selection at Mustard Seed in Bethesda is pretty reasonably priced -- I recently got a maxi dress there for $16. And the DC Goodwill Fashionista holds regular trunk shows around the city where she sells some of the great finds from Goodwill, so your budget buys are pre-selected and you don't have to root through the rest of the stock. Get on the Goodwill e-mail list for updates.
Betsy: I definitely still love vests. And with the tuxedo look being such a big style for fall, they've found new life (thank you, Ashley Olsen!). I wear mine paired over an oversized white blouse or simple, floaty dress – it adds a nice menswear edge to a more feminine style.