Ask Belle Roundup Vol. II, No. Eleven

Nov 14, 2012


I love your blog, especially the two ways feature.  One thing I’ve noticed is that, in your recommendations, you include bold and bright nail polish colors.  I’m wondering if you think it is appropriate to wear colored nail polish to work. By that I mean, what range of colors do you think is appropriate?  I always thought that only the faintest pinks or nudes were work appropriate, but your posts seem to suggest that bolder reds, oxbloods, plums, mauves, and other colors in the pink-red-purple family might be appropriate.  Are there any colors you would not wear to work?  Of course, a chipped manicure looks unprofessional no matter the color, but I’m just wondering.  What do you think is more work appropriate — a well-kept but unpolished nail, or a bright/bold manicure?


What kind of nail polish you can or should wear to work depends entirely on your office.  Some women can get away with bright neon and sequins, some women have to stick to nudes and pale pinks. But how do you know what’s appropriate for your office? 

Look around your office and see what your female co-workers and supervisors are wearing.  When I came to the Hill, I worked in an office where the women routinely wore bright reds, deep purples and pinks–no black (which was VERY big at the time), no dark blue, no acrylics.  So I took my cues from them, and when I wore polish, I kept it to the standard color palette.

If you work in an office where no one wears finger nail polish, then I would stick to the pale pinks and nudes.  Because even if it’s “okay,” if it isn’t the norm, you can wind up standing out for the wrong reasons.

If you’re looking for some pretty pinks, I like Deborah Lippmann Tiny Dancer and Essie Like to Be Bad.  For reds, my favorite true red is Essie Lollipop, but I also love the ruby hues of SpaRitual Henna.  And if purples are your thing, I like NARS Purple Rain for a dark shade and Orly You’re Blushing Lilac for a paler shade.

Hi Belle – 

I will be spending Thanksgiving this year with my boyfriend’s family for the first time (no pressure). We will be flying to the family home, from a cold climate to a warm climate, after a full day of work for him and law school for me. I am a firm believer, as are you, in dressing well when travelling; however, I am slightly stumped by the climate change and given this is my first serious holiday with the family, I want to make sure I look chic and fresh when I arrive. Any good tips? 

Thanks! Holiday Traveler

Jeans: Genetic Shy Skinnies ($200) Sweater: AE Open Knit Pullover ($55) Tank: Vanessa Bruno Racerback Tank ($84) Earrings: Gold Plated Pyramid Stud ($122) Necklace: Sunburst Pendant ($68) Sandals: Barigoule Sandal ($225) Scarf: Chan Luu Cashmere Blend Scarf ($195) Boots: Penny Riding Boots ($190) Coat: J.CREW Majesty Peacoat ($288)

Genetic makes the softest jeans on the market right now.  I don’t know how they do it, but they’re like butter, which means them a good choice for travelling.  As for the rest of the outfit, it’s a lesson in layering.

We start with a cotton tank as our base layer.  Then, we add an open knit sweater with a slightly beachy/resort feel.  Then, we add on some jewelry to liven up the party.  And a basic sandal to continue the Southern California in autumn feel of the outfit.

To keep warm on the plane, we add a cashmere blend scarf in a bold but pleasing color and a pair of tall boots.  And for those chilly D.C. temperatures, we choose a relaxed peacoat for a warm and casual look.

If you felt like you needed to one more layer to cover the open knit sweater while sitting in your law school classroom, I would recommend either a drape jacket or a drape cardigan.

As for meeting the parents advice, take outfits that you feel comfortable and confident wearing.  You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard, and you don’t want the clothes to get in the way of making a good impression.  So don’t over think it, and just focus on being yourself. 

Dear Belle,

The weather has gotten colder in upstate New York, which means my office is FA-REEZING. I’m tackling all the methods I know to stay warm. The one area where I’m at a loss is what shoes to wear. I wear a pant suit most days and when I wear my regular pumps, my feet are freezing because there’s bare skin sticking out. Are there any shoes/boots with a heel that actually look good under suit pants and will cover my entire foot, so that I can wear socks (thereby avoiding hypothermia)? My flat riding-style boots look atrocious under pants as you can imagine.

Freezing Toes in Upstate 

If your office is cold and your always chilly, it can make being at work almost unbearable.  When I was a Staff Assistant, I was always, always cold and miserable.  Then, I discovered the wonders of the heating pad, and suddenly, I was warm.  But since your concern is specific to your feet, this is a bit of a different matter.

I think the two best options for wearing with pants would be high-heel tall boots and high-heel ankle booties.  This pair of black tall boots from Ellen Tracy hits all of my requirements: 3″ heel, rubber sole, padded footbed.  I also like these ruched leather boots, but those would look nicer with skirts.  And if you need something under-$100, these Impo stretch boots are a good option.

As for ankle booties, these Audrey Brooke shoes in grey suede caught my eye.  (These loft booties in grey are also pretty great.) And these booties from Vince Camuto have the traditional lower shaft, so they just cover the foot, not the ankle.

If you’re not enamored with these options, I would either start wearing fleece-lined tights ($34 from plush, or from Forever 21 $7) under my pants or trouser socks.  Neither option will keep you truly warm, but they might cut down on the draft a bit.

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  1. lisa says:

    When you spend time with your significant other's family, make sure you match their level of dressiness. The first time I was going to spend the weekend with my BF's parents, I was planning to pack dresses and skirts, my usual fare. But my wise roommate reminded me that many people just wear jeans around the house and I wouldn't want to look like I was dressy when everyone else was casual. So I packed mostly jeans outfits and I was really glad I did, because it was all my boyfriend's family wore.

  2. k-t says:

    If the destination climate is too warm for boots, what in the world is she going to do with them when she arrives? Trying to jam them into a carry on seems awkward and would come across as high maintenance. I say leave the boots at home (and I LOVE boots) and wear oxfords, loafers, or flats. Stash a warm pair of socks in your carry on to keep the tootsies warm on the plane. Wool footies also make flats more comfortable in cooler weather; Smartwool makes some.

    I also would recommend wearing a shirt under the sweater that could be worn solo and over a comfortable bra, not a strapless bra.

  3. Belle says:

    k-t: I assumed she would have a small suitcase and can change into the sandals when she arrives, I do it when I travel to warmer climates for work. I just keep my flats or sandals in my carry on and stop quickly in the restroom to change shoes. It's not a hassle.

  4. Shannon says:

    Agree with Lisa about mirroring the family's clothes. The first Thanksgiving I spent with my now-husband's family, his sister and I actually wound up in almost exactly the same outfit! (Gray sweater dress, black tights and boots.) Now that I'm wifed up, I've gone back to my usual ladylike clothes.

    I'd ask the boyfriend how his family usually dresses on holidays, and ask for specifics. Do they wear jeans? Dresses? Business casual type things? What is he going to wear? Most men aren't up on dress codes so you need to ask questions.

    My usual cold-to-warm outfit is a drapey sweater and shawl layered over a tank, skinny jeans, and ballet flats or sleek sneakers.

  5. K... says:

    Dear Freezing Toes,
    Try a lace-up heeled oxford with pants. I have a pair with 3″ heels that look like men's wing tips. They have a subtle “dapper dandy” menswear look when worn with trousers.

    Because they lace up, I can adjust the fit for thinner or thicker socks. I second the recommendation of Spanx trouser socks and also Smartwool knee socks. Smartwool can pack a lot of warmth in a relatively thin sock.

  6. Ellen says:

    No matter what time of year it is, what the temperature is and where I'm going and coming from, I typically wear the same type of outfit when traveling.

    1. J Crew leggings (or in the winter fleece lined ones from shop bop)
    2. Long tank that covers my butt with thick enough straps to wear a normal bra
    3. Drapey, over-sized cardigan or sweater jacket
    4. Scarf
    5. Ballet Flats
    6. Nice earrings and bracelets
    7. Hair down (pony tail makes it hard to rest on the plane and a sock bun sets off the metal detectors at airports)

    And I bring socks with me for airport security and the plane and a small blanket as well in case it is really cold.

    I try to change colors up to reflect the seasons. For example, when I went to Bermuda, I had a bright Lilly Pulitzer scarf and gold Tory Burch flats on. When I just went to St. Louis, I had on a typical looking Burberry scarf and black Tory Burch flats on.

    Obviously, if you are coming from work, the leggings may not be appropriate depending on where you work but another comfortable pant will do the trick.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am wondering what people generally think about this – are 3″ heels too high, maybe too unprofessional for a professional setting? Thanks for any advice.

  8. Kelsey says:

    One of my tricks to keep my feet warm is to stick a pair of hot hands (the things you use in your gloves when skiing) in my shoes when I'm sitting down at my desk. They are like mini heating pads.

  9. Belle says:

    Anonymous: I think 3″ are the perfect height for a professional setting. Some women push it to 4 or 4.5, but I try to stick with 3″.

  10. Lindsey says:

    This may not be a practical option in your office, but I recently bought a small heater from for about $20. It's quiet and puts out a lot of heat! Perfect for keeping my feet warm in a basement office.

  11. Helena says:

    I've got to agree about the impracticality of wearing boots when heading to a warm destination. You won't wear them while you're there, they take up far more room in the carry-on or suitcase than the flats/sandals you're changing into, and they can add significant weight to your bag. I think it makes much more sense to wear flats, be a little cold while getting to and from the airport at home, and bring warm socks for the plane.

  12. Anon says:

    I have to say, I'm surprised at the suggestion to wear sandals at this time of year, even in a warm climate. I would only consider closed-toe flats as the casual, warm weather option I would only show my (always polished) toes in flip-flops at the pool in a tropical location.

  13. Morgan says:

    Did I read this backwards for holiday traveler? I thought she was going from cold to warm not the other way around?? I don't know where she's going that's warm, but I'm in Atlanta and she certainly wouldn't look out of place wearing boots to fly here over the holidays (maybe so in South Florida or the Southwest though?). I travel a fair amount between ATL and DC, and my best advice for traveling from changing temperatures is similar to what Belle has posted LAYERS!! Start with what you'll be comfortable in for the warmer destination and layer on until you're good in your current location, or in the reverse pack those extra layers in a big carry on purse. My go to shoe for flying is a ballet flat (I wear tights or those little no show sock things with them for airport security, no thank you I will not stand barefoot on that mat)

  14. gingerr says:

    For the visit to boyfriend's family traveler – think twice about the skinny/tight jeans. It's a great look for you around town and out with boyfriend, but when hanging with his family that you've never met I'd go a little bit more subtle.

    You're a law student, go ahead and project some pre-degree edge with pants that are young and flattering but tuned to a multi-generational event. Granny will appreciate it. If you've got her impressed you're sailing in the right direction with the family.

  15. Jill says:

    On the cold feet, if your boots/shoes can accommodate, I recommend knee socks, which I had not worn since about age 9 until fairly recently, when I got some at the Gap to wear with tall boots. The Gap socks are especially nice because they have a little bit of stretch and so don't fall into the boot. The warmth is delightful.

  16. Caroline says:

    You speak about taking cues from female co-workers, but what if you're the only woman in your office? Specifically, in my case, my co-workers are all men who are older than 50.

  17. I like your tip about looking around to see what other women inf the office are wearing. Frankly I've seen other women wearing nail polish that a lot more colorful than what I would wear in that environment. On the other hand, I recently learned that the jewelry I like is a mot more colorful than some of them would wear.

    I guess everyone exceeds other people's expectations in some way- whether it's with hair color, hair cuts, the type of scarf you choose, the height of your heels, etc. The key is to be sure that you are comfortable with whatever you are wearing when all things are considered.

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