Ask the Editor: Vol. IV. No. Three

Mar 23, 2023

I used to really enjoy getting dressed for work (and life in general) and it showed. Now, as a working lawyer and mother, I mostly just put clothes on my body because I have neither the self confidence, nor the cold tolerance, to go full lady Godiva.

Sure, I want to look nice and be well dressed, but that joy, that verve about my outfits just isn’t there.  This is partially because I am not at peace with my body. It is partially because I am not at peace with my career, which I used to dress for every day like I was going on a hot date with my future ambitions. This malaise has sucked some of the joy out of writing this blog, but I always feel good when I reach into the mailbag and pull out questions from readers.  So let’s get started.

Hello:

I’m going to a good friends wedding in late May in San Diego. The attire is formal and the grooms are attorneys who live in New York so that makes sense, but formal and San Diego is basically an oxymoron to this bay area woman. Would love some ideas, particularly if I can wear a real bra (I’m a mom in my 40s with DDs…can’t be bothered to deal with strapless). The ceremony and cocktail hour will be outside. I’ve never used rent the runway…maybe that’s a good option since I’m decidedly not a formal wear person? (I work from home full-time as an environmental consultant, and have small children).

Thanks so much!! Kat

My Rent the Runway (RTR) advice is this: If you have time before the event, locate the dresses you want to wear and order them for the day of the event.  Also, order them to try out now.  That way, if the dress shows up and looks terrible or it’s just not what you want, you can  find a replacement by cancelling the future order.

On the topic of RTR, sometimes I’ve had good luck and others it has been terrible.  So my preference is to buy affordable formal wear that I may wear to another event later.  But where to find affordable formal attire?

My first stop is always Saks Off 5th because many of the dresses cost the same as a rental.  If a real bra is a must, I like this bow-strap dress in green or black.  If that’s not as critical, this open back asymmetric gown and this high neck halter are both good options (you could definitely wear a convertible bra with this one).  Another good stop is Neiman Marcus Last Call for the same reasons.

Another option when invited to a formal wedding when you don’t have the need for a formal dress is to buy a nicer cocktail dress.  As we learned from The Devil Wears Prada, something less formal with more style and better quality is better than a cheaper formal dress.  Especially one you probably won’t wear again.

If you’re looking for cocktail attire in the $300-$750 range (we’re talking long term use pieces), Farfetch is by far my favorite retailer.  Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.  Zimmermann has a great dress with puff sleeves and a dotted halter (I would add a bit of sheer blue fabric to give me a little more coverage).  This Self-Portrait lace dress would accommodate a real bra.  I also like this plisse off-shoulder dress, but it would require a strapless.  But what all of these dresses have in common is that they are stylish and unique, so they stand up at a formal event as a shorter dress.

Other retailers who carry these types of short but impactful dresses are Shopbop, Anthropologie, and Revolve.

Hi Abra!
I have been reading your blog since I was a Staff Assistant on the Hill, and now as an almost-40 mom and professional it’s nice to have someone whose style needs have evolved along with mine!You post a lot of pants lately, and I am struggling post-covid, and post-kids with comfortable waistbands for pants.  What is your secret?  I have a bit of a mommy pouch, and I feel like anything with a defined waistband ends up giving me a muffin top and/or is super uncomfortable. 

I don’t care about sizing and am happy to go up, but do comfortable pants still exist for the post-kids body type? Love the blog! Caroline

I posted about my post-maternity pant wardrobe in this post, so I don’t want to just regurgitate that.  But I do want to talk about another solution you may not have considered: your underwear.

For many years, I wore the Hanky Panky Eve thongs.  During pregnancy, I switched to the Proof’s leak resistant and period underwear (because being pregnant is not a dry experience).  Post-pregnancy, I need just a little support in the lower abdomen.  So I either wear these Spanx hipster lace briefs or these Maidenform briefs.  I don’t want compression, I just want a little support.  Adding that bit of lift and tuck makes wearing pants and skirts with a defined waistband easier.

Abra,

I was at a hearing today and saw a lot of the other attorneys wearing cute block heel shoes that looked fresher (and more comfortable) than my usual pump rotation. Do you have any recommendations for interesting < 3” block heels I could incorporate into my wardrobe?

Diane

Block heels are a nice alternative to stilettos because they offer more stability, which translates into comfort.  Marc Fisher’s point-toe Zala heels are a popular choice.  I like these lower-heeled Cole Haan pumps.  These Aldo heels give you an under-$100 option for a similar shoe.

Need a round toe pump?  Try these Marc Joseph pumps.  Need a wide pump?  Naturalizer makes block heels styles.

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  1. Maggie says:

    I’ve had people stop me in the halls of Dirksen to ask where these shoes are from. Great low block heel. Can chase after boss in them or stand all day. https://www.dsw.com/en/us/product/hush-puppies-sofie-pump/532406?activeColor=260

  2. Lauren W says:

    I’d also recommend Nuuly as another option for clothing rentals. I was referred by a friend to get $10 off and have loved the items I’ve received in 2 boxes so far. I used it for a destination beach wedding and work/causal items. Next month I’m getting more wedding & event pieces.

  3. Allison says:

    I love that bow strap dress. One thing I like to keep in mind when buying something formal that I won’t wear often, is it classic and timeless? So when I need to wear a full length gown again, which won’t be for a while, can I rewear? I think that bow strap dress fits that.

    Also, I definitely second the spanx undies. I was afraid of them because I thought spanx meant it was going to be super constricting, but they just hold in the loose bit of my tummy that didn’t used to be loose.

  4. LL says:

    “…malaise has sucked the joy out of writing this blog…”

    I’m a little older than you, my kids are 8-13 and I’m an executive. I love reading your blog for the “fashionable” days that I wear pants with a waistband. The rest of the time, I’m a virtual altheleisure senior leader and manager of multiple teams…while running pickups as a newly single mom. I’ve found peace in accepting the seasons of my life. Welcome to yours.

  5. Nancy says:

    “I used to dress for every day like I was going on a hot date with my future ambitions”, such a great line! And yes, that was fun, for you and for us. But for everyone who never felt that way, your current perspective has a lot to offer, comprehending the opposite perspective brings so much to the table! I agree with the commenter who said embrace this new season. Motherhood has enlarged your vision of the world, and that will just keep growing!Thanks for all you bring to this enterprise, it is truly enjoyed and appreciated!

  6. Jess says:

    Belle,

    I considered myself a firmly committed fashionista in my pre-mom days. After that, getting dressed became more frustrating and less fun and exciting as I tried to adapt to a body that was a different shape and size than previously, and of which I demanded completely different expectations. The first year is the hardest. After that, you’ll slowly find acceptance. And maybe even a new style or silhouette that works for your new body. It will be ok. Hang in there. Your baby doesn’t care what you look like. And to her, you are the whole world.

    • Klo says:

      Yes! Glam like Elizabeth-Taylor-in-a-caftan. This type of dress is made for swanning around in flats looking dramatic and gorgeous.

  7. Tiffany says:

    Just sending you some love….late 40s and not comfortable in my body right now but also wanting to accept and love myself. You have a lot going on but I love what you do!

  8. Annie says:

    I similarly have no need for formal attire and when I need it for a wedding, I use rent the runway. I’ve had some success with signing up for their trial membership deal a couple times and then canceling after one month. I sign up slightly less than a month ahead of the event and do the four item w/ one swap plan (I think the deal was $80-100/mo). I then order the four dresses I think will work and keep the one that works the best and swap back the ones that don’t for three others. I put my membership on pause and send back the dresses by the return date. Once they have the dresses, I cancel the membership. It’s worked really well, I’ve felt lovely in what I wore, and the value has been there for me. I would certainly not pay what the dresses sell for since they’re really a one time use for me and I like not having more things I don’t wear in my closet. It does take some effort to read the reviews on how things are fitting to guess at the best size and sometimes, the items you want are all rented out. You can look around in your size ahead of paying for a membership to see if there’s things you would be interested in. And have such a wonderful time celebrating your friends!

    Here’s the formal dresses I’ve liked when doing this over the past decade:

    https://www.renttherunway.com/shop/designers/red_valentino/floral_embroidered_poplin_dress#reviews-partial
    https://www.renttherunway.com/shop/designers/shoshanna/kiriya_velvet_lace_column_dress
    https://www.renttherunway.com/shop/designers/adam_lippes_collective/burnout_velvet_cami_dress
    https://www.renttherunway.com/shop/designers/christian_siriano/sunflower_gown
    https://www.renttherunway.com/shop/designers/marchesa_notte/artwork_sequin_dress

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