Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I'm about to have a birthday and I'd like to do something for myself. I've recently lost 55 pounds (with 20 pounds more to go)! I've been searching online on how to find my style. How do I find my style without so much confusing information and YouTube videos and spending so much money? — Francine J.
Dear Francine: I have struggled to answer this question for years and have concluded that there is no easy or right answer. But before I offer some suggestions, have you patted yourself on the back for the amazing discipline it took to lose that weight? You're my hero. I know it wasn't easy.
First of all, you don't want to spend much money on clothes that fit your body now but won't fit once you lose the last 20. It is going to take some time online to see what style and individual pieces appeal to you and that you think might flatter your new figure. But you're worth it. Invest in yourself by devoting time to that project.
Keep a file of screenshots or photos you've taken of women whose look you are drawn to. Browse Pinterest. Stop at a magazine rack and take phone photos of models wearing pieces that you think will suit you. Online you'll find loads of lists of recommendations of items every woman needs in her closet — a crisp white shirt, black trousers that really fit, a trench coat, a flattering jacket, etc. I like Tim Gunn's list of 10 essential items. Perhaps you'll want to start with those basics.
Once you've put together your style file, take advantage of a free department store personal shopper service by making an appointment at a store like Nordstrom or Bloomingdales. They'll ask you to fill out a questionnaire. Show the shopper the look file you've assembled. Be explicit about your budget. Then, try on a whole lot of clothes the shopper has pulled for you. Don't feel obligated to buy. Add pieces slowly. Have the shopper alert you to sales that suit your shopping list. If personal shoppers are good at their job, they'll realize that building a long-term relationship is the goal. One more thing: There are services like Stitch Fix that, after you complete a style profile, will send you a box of clothes selected for you by a stylist. Returns are free. If you don't buy anything, there's a charge of $20 per box. From your question, I think you'd be better off with face-to-face, hands-on help.
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: Have you noticed the suits that men wear now have very tight slacks? Most unattractive and wonder why they are making suits like this? Are they trying to copy women? What ever happened to slacks that have a little bit of room for both genders? — Helen B.
Dear Helen: I've noticed! I agree that they're not flattering on those of us who aren't model thin. Stores with large inventories of suits and slacks for both genders do carry clothing that has "a little bit of room" because most people think precisely what you do of these teeny styles: Not for me.
So many of you have come to the rescue of Dolores S. who couldn't find a gray eyebrow pencil or eyeliner to naturally enhance her sparse gray eyebrows without looking like she drew them on. Joyce P. writes, "My choice for a neutral brow color that works on any skin tone is the Prismacolor brand 'Ebony Graphite Drawing Pencil' (art supply stores or amazon.com, 12 for $7.94). It creates a very soft, extra smooth line and can be feathered (or drawn) on as needed to make your brows as dark or as light as you wish. The tip shouldn't be too sharp; just a little blunt." Bonnie Z. has the same frugal recommendation — a tip she learned from a model. Marilyn T. got the same tip from an American Airlines flight attendant. Barbara R. chooses this pencil too.
Suzanne K. likes Cover Girl "Perfect Blend Pencil Crayon" in charcoal (drugstores, Target, under $6). Christina O. writes, "I love my gray hair and so wish they would make more products to accentuate it." She uses Revlon Colorstay charcoal eyeliner and, for brows, La Femme Brush on Brow in gray (camerareadycosmetics.com and other online sites, $6.30). Christina adds, "A little trick I use for applying the Brush on Brow is to apply it directly after I have put moisturizer on my face. It seems to make it stay all day and looks much nicer." Ann K. uses Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz in taupe (sephora.com, $21). Leslie H. uses Anastasia Dipbrow Pomade in ash brown (ulta.com, $18). "I also bought their brush, $18 each. The pomade sticks to my eyebrow hairs, dark and invisible. So, no look of drawn on brows, which I am not fond of." Margaret H. favors Clinique Quickliner for Eyes in slate (department stores, $18).
From Barbara L.: "I've given up the pencils, cheap or expensive. Just as the point gets properly rounded and goes on fairly smoothly, it's time to sharpen or toss it. I experimented with eye shadow powders in the smokier tones and found there are various shadings of gray or gray-brown that go on well (with angled eyebrow brush or even a soft, flattish eyelid contour brush) and stay on. Right now I'm using a kit of varying brownish/taupe shadows by Revolution brand and a couple of brushes I had on hand. I don't spend a lot, probably got this batch at T.J. Maxx." Anne P. uses Etude House Drawing Eyebrow Pencil in No. 5 gray (amazon.com, $4.64). Ann writes, "It lasts a long time, is much better than taupe or blonde for those of us who are going natural, I find. It is very natural looking." Sharon B. uses the same shadow blending technique.