Fashion & Beauty Queries: Vol. IV, No. Twelve

Mar 28, 2017

Hi Belle, 

I’m turning 33 next week, and it’s time to start looking out for my skin.  My gov’t salary cannot support a Sephora habit.  Can you point me in the direction of some glycolic acid or vitamin-C, or whatever the kids are doing now, that won’t bust my monthly budget?

Thx! Wendy

Several readers and a number of beauty magazines are saying really positive things about the brand The Ordinary.  The prices run under-$20 a bottle, and you can find their products at ASOS.

Their Vitamin C Suspension is supposed to do incredible things to brighten up your skin.  I ordered their Caffeine Solution, which is supposed to reduce under-eye darkness.  I couldn’t be more excited to try it.

Hi Belle,

Love your blog! I just booked a long weekend in Palm Springs in May and I’m in desperate need of new bathing suits and coverups. Victoria’s Secret selection was pretty weak- do you have any recommendations for other places to look?

Thank you! Tina

The selection at VS is weak this year.  I assume it has something to do with the fact that they are closing up the swimsuit division.  But, never fear, there are other good spots.

Macy’s is a good spot because it has a wide selection of styles, sizes, and prices.  I like this high-neck Hula Honey suit in green crochet.  Zappos also has a large selection, though things tend to sell out quickly.  Shopbop also has some really interesting choices, but they are not for the feint of pocketbook.

As for coverups, I took a long, white one to Cuba, and it was the best decision I made.  I like coverups that can be worn to lunch, for errands, etc..  Sometimes, you just want to pop out for lunch without changing clothes.

This long, white caftan from Vitamin A is breezy and cool.  I also like this watercolor-print Trina Turk romper.  For something under-$100, this Joe Fresh tunic with fringe trim is a classic.  And you can never go wrong with a simple tank dress.

Hi Belle!  

Love the blog!  Started reading while I was working in DC and still read now that I’ve moved back to Detroit.  I have a pair of red patent pumps that I really like, but I can never figure out how to wear them.  My first impulse is to pair them with a black dress and red blazer, but that’s definitely too match-y for a modern look.  Any other ideas for me?

Keep up the good work! Laura

I wouldn’t pair red separates with red pumps.  You are correct that is too much red-on-red.  I’m also not a big fan of black and red together, it feels a bit harsh to my eye.

My favorite ways to wear red shoes are with navy, white, and grey.  They don’t look that great with brown.  Pairing the red with classic neutrals gives you a pop of color without overpowering the look.

Another option, if you’re feeling bold, is to pair them with other colors.  For example, red shoes would look particularly striking with a cobalt dress or deep pink one.


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  1. Chelsea says:

    For affordable skincare that’s not all marketing (and is 100% fragrance free) I’d recommend Paula’s Choice, too. I recently learned it’s available online from Nordstrom – so I’m ordering from there instead to get points!

  2. Amy says:

    RE: inexpensive skincare – I have been trying some of The Ordinary’s products, with mixed results. The vitamin C suspension above feels grainy to the touch – almost like a face scrub. I don’t love that feeling, and it makes it hard to layer multiple products. Also, if you have sensitive skin, note that it stings the face a little when you first apply. I’m not sure I’ll continue to use it. On the other hand, I have had a good experience with their “buffet” serum – a cocktail of anti-aging ingredients. I apply before moisturizer in the morning and evening and I like the way it makes my skin look and feel. It seems to diminish lines around my eyes, but I haven’t used it long enough to see the long-term results yet. A good vitamin c serum I’ve used in the past is Poppy Austin’s vitamin c ( I’ve been able to find it on Amazon. I found it to brighten and tighten my skin.

  3. Addie says:

    I’ll be 30 this year. I have a multi step skin care routine that I follow religiously and my skin frequently gets complimented. With the exceptipn of retinol (which I get through my dermatologist), everything else can be found at CVS or Amazon for $10-20. I particularly love Nip+Fab glycolic fix serum, L’Oreal Eye Defense, Lumene Bright Now Vitamin C Sleeping Cream and Radha Beauty Vitamin C serum (Amazon).

    Also, for the reader looking for swim suits, I have mix and match bikini pieces from VS that are still in great shape so I don’t really *need* a new one, but I really wanted a one piece with some sexy cut outs. They haven’t come yet so I’m not sure how they’ll work out, but I just found two I loved at Target!

    • Allie says:


      What order do you do this routine, and do you do everything both morning and night?


      • Addie says:

        at night I double cleanse ( oil cleanser then a gel cleanser), then I tone with Thayers alcohol free toner. After that I use the eye cream then the glycolic serum on my face, neck and chest. Every other night I also use the retinol after the glycolic serum but only on my face as my neck and chest can’t tolerate it. I let that all sink in while I eat dinner and watch TV then I apply the sleeping cream not long before bed. I developed this routine based on advice I read that you should go in order of product consistency and that you shouldn’t layer on too many products at once.

        In the morning I use the eye cream again and then Skin Fix moisture boost serum in place of a traditional moisturizer. Next is the vitamin C serum on my face neck and chest then tinted SPF on my face (I don’t use foundation) and Clinique moisture surge gel on my neck and chest. I know it sounds like a lot but I’ve definitely seen the results in my skin’s appearance. Plus I grew to in Texas and have already had 3 instances of actinic keratosis had the potential to become pre-cancerous if ignored) on my face before turning 30

    • Valerie says:

      Seconding Addie’s recommendation for the Target swimsuits. VS discontinued their regular swim line as of last year (they’re only selling a limited selection in their PINK line), which was really disappointing as I liked being able to order a two-piece top in my bra size. The Target suits are decent quality for the price, and they provide a sizing chart on their website with bra size (band/cup) equivalents to their S/M/L sizing.

      Shopbop’s swimsuits are cute, but they’re far too overpriced for the quality you get, which can be hit or miss depending on brand and style.

      • Anna says:

        I loved VS swimsuits! Not only for the sizing, but also that I could mix and match tops and bottoms so easily, and could usually score some pretty sweet deals. Tear 🙁

        • Valerie says:

          @Anna I feel you. I liked being able to buy the correct top size just by knowing my VS bra size, and mixing styles knowing that the colors would match. Supposedly the swimwear line was eliminated due to declining profits, but nearly every female friend I know owns a swimsuit from VS.

          Give the Target swimsuits a try, though- even though their sizing isn’t as exact as VS, I’ve found them to be a decent substitute for fabric quality despite being inexpensive.

  4. Amy says:

    While not cheap, I cannot recommend Athleta swimwear highly enough! I have always struggled with my weight, so I’ve never loved myself in a suit, but this spring I feel more confidant than ever in my Athleta suit. It holds everything in and is flattering. I knew the suit was a keeper when my husband commented on how much he likes it (the man who never notices anything). I’m even 18 months postpartum and am feeling better than ever in a swimsuit.

    • Anon says:

      Amy, I’m in the same position (approx. 13 months postpartum), and dreading swim shopping for the summer – would you mind sharing with us what suit you purchased from Athleta?

      • Amy says:

        Good luck with the shopping, my dear! It’s not fun…I feel ya.

        I tried on pretty much all of Athleta’s Aqualuxe line, which I found to be amazing: supportive, didn’t ‘dig in’ anywhere, and the fabric is luxurious. I ended up with the bikini top and strappy bottom. I would have gone with the one piece, but my torso is super long and one pieces don’t really work. It was, hands down the best one piece I’ve ever tried on. I also really loved the tankini.

        I never thought I’d be back in a bikini, like ever. Sure, I don’t look the same as I used to, but darn it, my stretch marks and tummy made an amazing little human, and I feel amazing in this suit. I wish you this same confidence, hopefully more!

  5. BB says:

    I just started using ‘The Ordinary’ products, so not sure yet how well they work. But they are affordable and cruelty free. The products are also sold online at

  6. Joy says:

    I’ve been using The Ordinary products for a little over a month and have noticed a dramatic improvement to my skin tone! Ordering from them definitely involves doing some research, because each serum is meant to target specific issues. I’ve been using the Advanced Retinoid 2% and the Buffet serum each night, and the Buffet and Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% in the morning. Once or twice a week I use their Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%. I have been thrilled with the results — my skin is clearer and softer than it has been in years, my pores look smaller, and old acne scars are fading. I am 100% converted!

  7. Eleni says:

    I wanted to love Paula’s Choice products but I never noticed a difference when using them. I recently started using Mario Badescu products and love them. I want to say most items are under $50. Worth a try!

  8. Pippie says:

    The Kiehls Vitamin C is amazing. It’s the Powerful Strength Line Reducing Concentrate and you can usually get samples from the stores.

  9. heatherskib says:

    I wear red shoes (everything from cherry patent to oxblood alligator) as kind of a signature. I got my first pair in 2015 as part of an equal pay campaign, and I’ve adopted them since. My wardrobe is primarily greys and navys, with khaki, teals, garnet and ivory. Before I phased out black, I would wear them as a spot of color in an all black and white outfit.
    Just remember that red shoes will always attract attention- so if you’re self conscious it can take a while to learn to rock them. I think of them like animal print. They go with everything and nothing. Whenever people compliment you on them, just say “Thank you” with a big smile and keep moving.

  10. Monica T says:

    I also love Athleta suits, they have the same colors every year so I’ve been building a collection of separates that coordinate. They also have short bottoms that are cute and sporty without being too “don’t look at my thighs”. I have a toddler so I need to be able to be active, covered and comfortable. They are high quality too.

  11. Lexi says:

    I think the best bet is to spend a bit of money by going to a dermatologist to get evaluated on what works best for your skin and to get a prescription for Retin-A if your doctor thinks you’d be a good candidate for it. Research shows that Retin-A is effective in increasing collagen over the long term.

    You can get some of the best skin care at the drugstore– I prefer Cerave and use their hydrating cleanser, moisturizer (the one in the tub) and PM moisturizer. My aunt’s dermatologist recommends Aveeno, which is another great drugstore brand that won’t irritate your skin. Invest in regular use of a sunblock every day under your makeup– Neutrogena makes some great ones. I love the Biore Aqua 50++++ Japanese sun block myself, but used to use Skinceuticals. I like the Japanese one that I can get for $9 better.

    For Vitamin C, the research is based on a 15% of L-Ascorbic Acid. Used Skinceuticals for 14 years, but have been pretty promiscuous in the past few years. Have used the Timeless version for $20 and the Drunk Elephant for $80, and others. I don’t see much difference between the cheap ones and the expensive ones; the most important thing is to not keeping using it after it oxidizes. I keep mine in the fridge.

    I will add that if your skin is dehydrated, the Korean moisturizing toners are amazing as well as the Vichy Aqualia Thermal. Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra hydration gel works great and has a nice consistency, but is more expensive.

    • Jill says:

      I second going to the dermatologist. I started going when I got 40, and couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was, even for most (but not all) prescriptions. I kicked myself for not going a decade sooner.

      Tip: ask the doctor if he has any free samples or coupons for the prescriptions. I remember getting a coupon for $100 bucks off one prescription cream.

    • Jenn S. says:

      +1 on the Biore Japan sunscreen. They have a few 50 PA++++ ones, but Aqua Rich Watery Essence is my holy grail.

  12. Katie says:

    I have an appointment with my dermatologist next week and wanted to ask him about how to establish a good skincare regimen based on my skin. Any tips on what to ask him? I’m fairly clueless. Right now, I am just using a Cerave daily moisturizer. I am 28 and would like to possibly get a prescription for Retinol, too.

    • Legally Brunette says:

      It’s helpful to go in with a list of the skincare and makeup products you already use. I did this when visiting my new dermatologist in DC and she was able to add/subtract from it, and even kept a few pre-existing items on the list. Ask about a Vitamin C serum for the morning and sunscreen, as well as the Retinol. That’s basically all I use on a daily basis, plus an eye cream. More products and/or a crazy routine do not necessarily equal better skin! It just depends on your skin type.

  13. Lisa says:

    I’ve had amazing results with the ordinaries products – my skin tone is more even and faded dark spots, and significantly less less breakouts. For daytime I layer Vitamin C Suspension 23%+ HA Spheres 2% under origins planscriptions oil free anti-aging cream with spf25. You should ignore the comments about the Vitamin C being gritty. It’s the Hyaluronic Acid spheres in the serum which have to be worked into your face – taking the time to work it into your skin correctly results in an amazing glowing skin. For nighttime I use Advanced Retinoid 2% (every other night) then seal in it with 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil.

  14. Sarah says:

    I wouldn’t just buy Vitamin c to buy it though. Or BHA for exfoliating. Or AHA. Or Retinol. These are all specific products for specific skin needs. My skin is pretty clear so I use AHA. Someone with less clear skin would use BHA. Vitamin C is for discoloration. I don’t use any of this stuff daily either. And the best thing you can use for your skin every day is SUNSCREEN. Most of these products make your skin even more sensitive to the sun, which can cause damage or cancer. A good thing about Paula’s Choice is that they can help you assess your needs and don’t animal test. But whatever you do. Sunscreen. They make it just for face. I like Coola but there are many brands.

  15. Sarah says:

    Oh and most important. Don’t just do your fave. Do your bed and upper chest also. Otherwise you’ll have @young face, old neck,” as my mother once horrified me by saying. I get complimented at the dermatologist for the lack o md sun damage on my chest.

  16. Sarah says:

    Oh and most important. Don’t just do your face. Do your neck and upper chest also. Otherwise you’ll have “young face, old neck,” as my mother once horrified me by saying. I get complimented at the dermatologist for the lack o md sun damage on my chest.

    • Jill says:

      Yes! And the backs of your hands! I’m already getting sun spots on my hands, probably from (years of) sun exposure when I drive.

  17. Saramel says:

    I’ve got a similar multi-step process like Addie, and I swear by two-step cleansing process. (My favorite combo is Shiseido’s and Purpose.) I’ve battled acne since my early 20s and two decades later (gulp!) I’m now grateful because it started me on retin-a early. I’ve been loyal to that and minimum SPF50 ever since and my friends tell me I look like I’m 15 years younger than I actually am (and they don’t believe I have an issue with acne, but it’s only because I’ve kept it in check after a lot of trial and error over the years). Start a good routine early and you will thank yourself later! One of my favorite companies is online Makeup Artist Choice. They offer many sample sizes so you can test what works for you. Too many favorites to list them all but I always have their 25% Mandelic Acid peel, Gly-luronic Serum, 5 Acid Body peel, and their Advanced Repair cream in my cabinet. For the quality of what you get, it’s worth every penny.

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