Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I have been in search of a new laptop/work bag. Ultimately, I want a bag that is stylish yet functional, lots of pockets, not too heavy and reasonably priced. Can you assist with some recommendations?
— Sara B.
Dear Sara: Of course I can. Don't laugh, but the bag I've carried to work for years is a diaper bag. Yup. Really. It's black, has pockets galore and is well padded. This thing was made to take a beating. And because new parents have lots of other things to spend money on, these bags are well priced, much more reasonable than the business bags you see in stores. Since dads are doing more of the diapering nowadays (yessssssssss!), the selection of gender-neutral bags without cutesy ducks-in-diapers designs is getting better and better. A lot of them come with a changing pad, but who cares? Donate the pad. Then buy a computer sleeve to tuck inside if you think you need even more laptop protection. To get you started, head for baby sites like buybuybaby.com or diapers.com, or just Google "black diaper bag" to find tons of totes for under $100.
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I am short but not slim, and I would like to find pantyhose that are large enough to fit my waist and tummy area but are short in length. I realize that many women go barelegged, but I'm not comfortable with bare legs! Do you know of a source for pantyhose that are short but wide? I hope you can help.
— Judith L.
Dear Judith: You're looking for "petite plus" or "queen petite" pantyhose, and Donna Karan has numerous options in the $14.50 to $20 range. They fit women starting at 4 feet 11 inches tall and up to 210 pounds. I've seen them on herroom.com, barenecessities.com and amazon.com, which also has Berkshire sheers starting at $4.50. Don't apologize for not feeling comfortable in bare legs. Many women feel the same way, and that includes the U.K.'s Princess Kate. You're in good company!
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I'm doing a bit of post-divorce redecorating, and I want to make my bed the most comfortable place in the house (and not just due to the absence of a 240-pound smelly, snoring man). I'm looking for cool, crisp sheets like my grandmother had. I will appreciate any direction you can share in the search for the perfect sheets.
Dear Mary: You've come to the right place. I've done the homework on this topic, and here's what you should look for when you go shopping:
•100 percent cotton and plain weave, NOT "sateen," which is shinier, smoother, slicker and tends to pill and fuzz over time.
•White, no colors or designs, because dye and print make sheets rougher, not crisp like you're looking for.
•Not "easy care" or "wrinkle resistant," because those are likely treated with resin, a formaldehyde-based product that makes them less crisp and cool.
•Forget high thread count. Anything over 180 is fine. I believe lower thread count gives a crisper feel.
Info on packaging is grossly inadequate, but the ideal sheet is "bleached, white, plain finish." If you have a pillow-top mattress, cheapo fitted sheets often aren't deep enough, so read the fine print to make sure they've got extra deep (18 inches or more) pockets.
I used to recommend the lowest thread count all-cotton white sheets from The Company Store (thecompanystore.com) for a crisp, cool feel, but I think they're now priced too high. Check discount and department store sales. The best of the best, pricey but heaven: Thomas Lee (thomasleeltd.com). Wait for a sale.
One more thing: I'm too lazy for this, but if you dry your sheets on an outdoor clothesline they feel even better!
Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I have a thinning hair problem. So how can I make my hair look thick and gorgeous? Are there products, accessories, styles?
— Just call me "T"
Dear "T": So many women share your problem! For products, I've heard good things about Bumble and Bumble "thickening spray" and "hair powder" (comes in colors to match your hair) at bumbleandbumble.com. Also Toppik "hair building fiber," at toppik.com. The Toppik applicator and detailer cost extra but are recommended by my testers. For style and accessories: Up-dos usually help, as do wide headbands and scarves tied as headbands, and the great news is that both are very much in style now.
When I read your answer to the mom needing help guiding her daughter toward appropriate clothing, I immediately was reminded of a similar situation we had about 30 years ago!
Our oldest son decided he did not have to worry about dressing nicely when out with the family, and after a few not-very-successful sessions of "You're not going looking like that!" my husband and I devised this plan. The next time we were all going to a school basketball game, my husband came down dressed in plaid pants from his high school days, matched "nicely" with a lovely floral printed shirt. Our son took one look at him and said, "You're not going looking like ..." Then came a long pause followed by a sheepish grin. Problem solved.
A week or two later, another mom was lamenting to me about a problem with her young teenage daughter wanting to wear too much makeup to school. I related to her how we had solved the problem with our son, and later she told me of her daughter's similar reaction when she started to take her to school — this time with the mother wearing the heavy makeup!
— Wiser now
Why have women my age (I'm 55) not taught their daughters to sew on a button or hem their pants? I've lost count of the number of young ladies I've seen walking on the street with pants that drag along the sidewalk, so overlong they're ripped and look like old rags. I don't quite understand why the ladies think they look good this way. Who's to blame? Women of my generation for not having taught their daughters how to hem pants? If you know what you're doing, it takes only 15 or 20 minutes. Maybe I should start a class.
— Barbara S.
Dear Barbara: I would definitely sign up for your hemming class! Nothing looks sloppier — on women and men — than pants dragging on the ground. And there's no reason in the world that men can't learn to hem pants too.
Shop, drop, then get help: Send your rants and questions — on style, shopping, fashion, beauty and makeup — to firstname.lastname@example.org.