Q: Do you have an opinion on patterned tights in the office?

A: Do I ever. Overall, I think subtly patterned tights — especially small, regular geometrics like dots or basket weaves — are suitable for all but the most conservative of office environments. Sheer, patterned tights are a fabulous option for transitional weather: If it’s too warm for opaques but too far into the season to do bare legs, a pair of black tights with low-contrast diamonds or chevrons will look a bit more interesting and contemporary than sheer black nylons.

Now prepare yourself for a boatload of “howevers”: Fishnets are risky across the board, because for many people that pattern still screams “lady of the night.” There are some marvelous fishnet variations out there, including microfishnets over a layer of sheer black nylon, but still proceed with caution. Multicolored patterned tights are far quirkier and more casual than tone-on-tone and low-contrast options, so reserve them for creative environments and casual wear. And bold patterns like large-scale florals, wide stripes and busy paisleys won’t look as sophisticated as their more subdued cousins.

Still unsure? Ask HR about dress code specifications, or check in with your co-workers. Every working environment is different, and I’d hate to get you fired for splashing out on a pair of pin-dot tights.


Q: I have a new pair of knee-high boots that have a zipper on the inner ankle. The boots kind of sag a little, so the leather around the ankle buckles in. Has this ever happened to you? Any advice to fix it?

A: I feel for you, friend. In fact, I sympathize because virtually all of my knee-high boots do the same thing, regardless of zipper style.

In most cases, the calf of a lady-leg is larger in circumference than the ankle, and each boot style is designed with a specific calf-to-ankle ratio. The footbed size will vary to accommodate various shoe sizes, but the ratio stays relatively fixed. So unless your unique calf-to-ankle ratio lines up with the ratio used for a particular boot style, you’re going to get some bunching. A partial zipper on the inner ankle aggravates this tendency, but full-zip boots do it, too.

The solutions: Be extremely picky about your boots and buy only the styles that match your leg proportions, do stretchy nylon boots instead of leather/pleather, or have your boots altered. Option one may leave you bootless and frustrated, option two sticks you with a style that’s somewhat limiting, and option three will be dicey and expensive. (The wizards at George’s Shoe & Leather Repair in Arden Hills might be able to help — but no guarantees.)

If you go for option four — acceptance and resignation — you’re in good company. Sneak a peek at knee-high boots worn by other women and you’ll see that the majority of us deal with a little ankle-bunching.


Q: I’ve heard that many leaders (Steve Jobs, President Obama, etc.) choose a “work uniform” to avoid making decisions about what to wear each day. What work uniform options would you recommend I consider? (I’m a professional in my 30s, and my work environment is business casual.)

A: Some style mavens find personal uniforms dull and predictable, but plenty of fashion tastemakers love them. Have you ever seen Carolina Herrera in anything other than a white button-front? Or Vera Wang without her beloved leggings? Uniforms make dressing quicker and easier, but also broadcast power and confidence. Picking a few for yourself is a smart and savvy practice.

When I work with style consult clients, three business casual formulas generally arise. The first is an outer layer (blazer, cardigan, jacket), a printed top, and a skirt or pair of pants. The idea here is that the printed top adds interest and movement, but also serves as a bridging piece. For instance, a floral top with burgundy, navy and olive in its print allows you to wear a burgundy blazer and navy pants, or an olive cardigan and navy skirt. Use the print’s colors to guide your choices.

The second is a jacket or blazer with a dress. The jacket adds instant structure and formality, which means you can opt for a classic sheath dress or a more casual fit-and-flare and still look professional. The two elements create balance, and also a bit of a blank slate. You can include a statement necklace to liven up your look, belt the dress to accent your waist or throw on a scarf to add color or print to the mix.

The third is a solid top, a solid bottom in a different color, and an accessory in the same color as the bottom. (So red sweater, black pants, black necklace.) Worn alone, the solid top and bottom have no visual relationship to each other. A necklace, scarf or brooch that brings the bottom color into your top half unites them.


Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based personal stylist and creator of the daily style blog Already Pretty (already­pretty.com). Her fashion advice appears on this page once a month. Send your questions to: tellus@startribune.com.