Beauty Q&A: Shorts, Gifts, and the Panty Purge

I keep telling myself that tights with shorts are off-limits because I did that trend the last time around, when I was 21–20 years ago. But all the cute shorts I keep seeing (and lack of appealing skirts/dresses) are tempting me to second-guess that decision. I should stay strong and resist the siren song of winter shorts, right?

You are reminding me of a supremely lovable but misguided substitute teacher at Central Elementary School in Owosso, Michigan, circa 1987, who was probably in her 40s and, dammit! I should’ve known then I’d need to remember her name. She wore polyester elastic-waist bell bottoms every day. But real ones from the actual ’70s. And she would insist LIKE A CRAZY PERSON that they were coming back in style someday, so we should all stop whispering about them. No, she insisted she was ahead of the trend, and we were all 10-year-old jerks for not “getting it” yet.

Years passed, and, lo and behold, ravers happened and so did flare leg jeans. But guess what didn’t? Polyester bell bottoms with elastic-waists. So, I guess what I’m saying is, do it in the way that seems appropriate and contemporary and you have nothing to worry about. A 40 year-old woman in non-frayed, not-too-short, tailored shorts with tights and an over-the-knee leather boot or loafer or Mary Jane like Jane Birkin over there, is adorable and ageless and it would be a shame to not at least give it a try. Work a blazer or substantial cardigan in there too if you don’t mind, mom.

I have two young cousins, nine and four years old, who treat me more like an aunt (I’m 25) and I am stumped as to what to get them for Christmas. I mean, I could come up with something, but I’m wondering if you have any ideas of great, meaningful gifts for girls that young. I’m especially curious about what you think would be great for the nine-year-old, since she’s the one I’m closest to and feels like a younger sister to me. I’m leaning toward her own copy of Harriet the Spy, since that was my favorite book when I was nine. I just want to be the cool aunt!

Ah! A question very close to my heart: I currently have two toddler sisters and another who is eight years younger than me. Lots of little girl ideas and experience! You are totally on-the-nose with the books. Trust that their parents have a million things to think about other than what book they remember liking when they were four; they’ll appreciate any help with building their library. Plus, books give you something important and fun to talk about. (Not that Barbie isn’t important and fun, but you know what I mean.)

Aside from books, you could get them the kinds of things Santa would probably leave out because he always forgot that part of your list too, don’t you remember? Chemistry set? Dress up clothes? An extra Barbie Big Head for when you have company and need to play “Salon”? I recently gave my baby nerds ASTRONAUT COSTUMES. Or how about the Sephora makeup kit of their dreams to destroy with glee? And crafts! Always crafts. For the nine-year-old, friendship bracelets are back with a vengeance, so any supplies or instructional stuff in that arena would be rad. Actually good, not annoying, kids’ music is also a welcome thing. You could make a mix of awesome songs that are fun for kids to sing along to, like this one and this one, or pick up a copy of Peter, Paul & Mary’s children’s album that is the best ever. Commenters, let’s brainstorm!

A recent culling of my underwear drawer has left me with few panty options for daily wear, aside from the uncomfortable and/or unnatural fiber ones that remain. I’ve got some Hanky Panky thongs, which I like, but I’d also like some breathable cotton options that don’t lead to VPL, yeast infections, or break the bank. Thoughts?

“Woot, woot!” for The Good Old Panty Purge, girl. Now get over to Filene’s or TJ Maxx or Loehmann’s or Nordstrom Rack. For some reason, which I’m sure someone out there knows, these joints are usually pretty well-stocked specifically with discounted Calvin Klein cotton bras and underwear that are not marked “irregular”? Don’t ask me. Also, Victoria’s Secret — a company I avoid when it comes to bras, but love when it comes to panties, slutty dresses, and shoes — has a 5 for $26 sale on cotton drawers right now. Go!

So, I’m going with my boyfriend to his company holiday party this year, which means I’ll be buying a dress. I dread events where I have to dress up. I’m generally a thrift-store shopper/lover of casual dressing and I’m pretty inexperienced at fancy shopping. It’s embarrassing that I’m a grown-ass woman, yet clueless and intimidated by this whole thing.

The invite said “casual to formal attire,” which is so unhelpfully vague. I like sleeves because I’m always cold, but a lot of the dresses with sleeves seem sort of matronly. I’d like to invest in a dress that’s grown up wardrobe-worthy and versatile enough to get some mileage out of it, even if it’s just at other parties this winter.

Where do ladies in their late twenties get fashionable, age-appropriate party dresses?

That is very weird that they included a dress code that’s no code at all? It might as well have said “wear clothing,” right? I’m sure the comments will be a goldmine for this one, so make sure you scroll down, but first… Personally, as a woman who errs on the side of overdressed, my one and only place for party dresses is Marciano. I am not fucking kidding! Their website kind of sucks and it’s like one in 30 dresses there that work, but when they do? HOOO-WEEE, keep your dude’s boss away from this shit! They do the body-con thing perfectly and chiffon. You have to try them on though. Don’t forget to ask for heels in the dressing room.

If your budget is bigger, consider starting your grown-ass woman Diane von Furstenberg collection. There are no classier or more timeless dresses out there — a DVF piece is rarely out of fashion — and she often goes for a long sleeve. Don’t forget about pashminas too, they’re a super classy way to keep bare arms warm. If money is tight, head over to ModCloth where there are some pretty good, err, similar-looking choices for a lot less. Whatever you do, buy a dress that you like and feel confident in and don’t worry about what everyone else will be wearing. ’Tis the season to rock beads and sequins on the same garment if you want! Literally, ’tis the only season for that, so go for it.

I am now a fourth-generation law school grad and I passed the bar exam, congratulations to me! Apparently, there is a family tradition about the bar exam, and now my grandfather wants to buy me a fancy briefcase. This is great, because I think that a briefcase would be a really nice way for me not to make all my papers all scrunched up all the time like a child’s homework! But now I have to pick one out, and I realized that this is hard and above my knowledge of fashion and bags. Do people use briefcases anymore? Did women ever use briefcases? If no briefcases, what would be an appropriate substitute bag option? I feel like any briefcase will make me look like I’m carrying my dad’s things around.

Pretty much, I want you to help me find a nice big business bag that makes me look like a lady and that is classic and sturdy enough to last me a really long time. Help me please?

First, briefcases are totally cool. And classy. And way more appropriate for a lawyer than a backpack or overstuffed tote or messenger bag. Being that it’s a gift and a “family tradition about the bar exam” (*eyes turn into dollar signs, chin pops out like a cash register drawer*) and it’s from your grandfather, I’m gonna go waaay out on a limb and assume this purchase can be crazy expensive. Which is fine since it will last you forever. (Also, that is a very sweet family tradition.)

Do you like this one, this one, or this one from Barney’s? I prefer a warmer leather and something with delicate-looking hardware, but go for what strikes you. For more affordable options, use Shopstyle and search on “work bags”; “briefcase” is typically gendered so expect to find them in the mens’ — you know, “the lawyers” — section. Ugh.

Previously: Makeup Brushes and the Pains of Being Appropriately Layered.

Do you have a question for Jane?