Answering the cleavage question

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 Cleavage

Cleavage (Illustration for the Tribune by Elaine Melko / July 26, 2012)

Dear Answer Angel: I am a teacher and have been trying to think of some funny way to make a point to some of the younger teachers on staff that there might be a more professional way to dress. It would be a good idea to start out the school year with the message of what is and is not appropriate.

— Kate J.

Dear Kate: Showing cleavage and underwear is so wrong and so very unprofessional. Skimpy skirts, bra straps showing, see-through and belly shirts, flip-flops. It's a long list of what not to wear in the classroom. And it's not just teachers who are guilty of these clothing felonies. They're everywhere. I have two suggestions. One is a bit of a cop out — but an effective one. The other might be the "funny way" you're looking for to get the message out.

First, the cop out: Get somebody else to do it. Ask your principal to set out written guidelines for appropriate dress in the classroom. Second, at the same time, click on a column I recently wrote (trib.in/MBaT2k) and print out the captioned photos of people I saw on the street showing lots more than anyone wants to see. Post the pictures in the faculty lounge. Each of the "don'ts" comes with my explanation of why the look is terrible and how to fix it. Consider it a public service. One reader told me that the captions "cracked (her) up," so I hope that's the humor you're looking for to make your point.

Dear Answer Angel: You know where to find everything, so here's my dilemma: I can't find dresses with sleeves! There have to be pretty dresses with sleeves somewhere. I don't want a cap sleeve. I want a sleeve that ends above the elbow, even a 3/4 sleeve — something! Some of us don't have toned arms or have reached a certain age where sleeveless is NOT flattering. I want to buy different types of dresses too — cocktail, casual, sophisticated, etc. And I DON'T want to wear a sleeveless dress with "a cute little shrug." If I hear that suggestion one more time, I'll scream! Where can I find these dresses?

— Barbara G.

And this…

Dear Answer Angel: I am trying to buy some ordinary short-sleeved cotton blouses. Apparently manufacturers now cater only to women with skinny, perfect arms, and ignore the women with more middle-aged, less firm arms. I do not want a shirt with a sleeve that is barely there and makes my arms look fat, but one that comes nearly to the elbow. In addition, the manufacturers seem to believe that the only colors women want in a shirt is white, pale pink, and pale blue, with occasional other bland options. Yuck! I don't want to look washed out, and am annoyed that only the men get the stronger colors. If you know of any place where I can get a real shirt (preferably at a bricks-and-mortar store rather than online), in pretty colors, I would appreciate it very much. My current wardrobe is wearing out fast!

— Kathy

Dear Barbara and Kathy: I am so with you . And I'm sick of people telling me I have to buy another piece of clothing (the infernal shrug) to make up for the failings of the dress I just bought. I recently went on a mission to find a dress with sleeves, real sleeves, to wear to a wedding. I shopped for weeks, at Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, boutiques and discount stores, even consignment shops, vintage stores and thrift stores. The two or three I found that weren't sleeveless or strapless looked OK on the hangar and hellish on me. I finally found a dress online (sarahcampbell.com). It shouldn't be that hard. In fact it shouldn't be hard at all.

It is infuriating that stores don't offer options for women with wrinkled, jiggly, fat, untoned or not-so-attractive arms. I wanted to type that sentence in all capital letters, it makes me so mad. Store buyers, pay attention to us! That should be in capital letters too.

As for blouses, Foxcroft makes them with ¾ sleeves in bright colors and patterns. They're not cheap ($34-$84) but they launder beautifully and look great without ironing. I've bought them at Nordstrom which has a limited selection. My best source is suepatrick.com which has a much wider array. And I even got lucky and found a couple for under $5 at a Goodwill shop.

Dear Answer Angel: I have over 20 pairs of women's denim jeans that I've saved from the 70's and early 80's that look just as good as any of the expensive tattered looks in stores now. Do you know of a store or person who would be interested in these jeans?

— Lare

Dear Lare: I'm guessing that subtle style changes over the decades make it unlikely that today's jeans shopper wants your jeans. Hope I'm wrong. Vintage and consignment stores are your best bet. And there's always eBay.

Dear Answer Angel: I appreciate how those little ribbon loops keep clothes from slipping off the hangers, but how do I keep them from flipping outside when I'm wearing the item?

— Thea

Dear Thea: You can't. No matter how it pains you, you'll need to cut them off. Otherwise I guarantee you they'll slip out of the neckline or sleeve for all to see. The manufacturers put them there for easy display of the clothes in the stores. You think they care about you? Are you kidding? Use clothes pins or skirt hangars with clips to keep the clothes on the hangar at home.

Dear Answer Angel: As wedding season is in full swing this summer and fall, I am realizing I cannot keep buying a new dress for each occasion. Any suggestions of versatile dresses and accessories that can make you look like you are not wearing the same thing to every wedding?

— Emily A.

Dear Emily: Pick a simple neutral dress (steer clear of brights that people will remember) and accessorize madly and differently for each wedding. A statement necklace for one. A stand out colorful belt and scarf for another. You can't miss with shoes in a great color. A cool vintage brooch and earrings. You get the idea. Consider the dress just the backdrop for your jewelry and other accessories. And they don't need to be expensive. Check out Payless (payless.com) for pumps, Charming Charlie (charmingcharlie.com)for jewelry and other accessories. And frugal shoppers (me!) find treasures at thrift stores.

Shop, drop, get help

Send your questions—on style, shopping, beauty and makeup—to answerangel@tribune.com.

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