Q: Can you give me guidelines or tips on using handbags as accessories? I have a pretty good collection of colored ones of different sizes, but always end up using my brown or black one.

A: I don’t care what fashion editors say about the perils of matchy-matchiness — bags make more sense if they echo at least one other element of your outfit. Doubly so if they are bold and bright. So if you want to carry a cobalt bag, pair it with an outfit that includes cobalt shoes or a cobalt belt or a cobalt necklace or a garment with cobalt in the print. Naturally, all of those together will cause cobalt overload. But just one will create visual unity.

On the flip side, a bright bag is also an incredibly easy way to add a much-lauded “pop of color” to your outfits. Casual looks are a great place to start: A white tee, jeans and leopard-print flats will look amazing with a bright red bag. Dressier looks that rely mainly on neutral colors make another great backdrop: Imagine a black blazer, white dress and metallic shoes with a blazing yellow bag. If you struggle to find a way to match certain bags to clothes and accessories, let them stand out as the single colorful element.


Q: I am a medium height plus-sized woman with a large chest, small waist and big hips. I love midi skirts, but I don’t feel I’ve been able to do them right. I would love to receive suggestions on how to pick/style midi skirts for plus size.

A: Oh, midis. They look so elegant and effortless on the runway, but styling them in real life can feel awkward and challenging. Luckily, there are some simple tricks to making midis work. And if you’re an hourglass-shaped woman aiming to make your figure look tall, slim and balanced, the same tips apply regardless of size.

The most common complaint about midi skirts is that they visually shorten the legs, but midis are made in a variety of lengths and a few inches can make all the difference. To elongate your legs, skip skirts that hit mid-calf and opt for styles that hit just below the bottom of your kneecap. Adding a heel or wedge shoe will elongate even further.

Skirt shape is also important when it comes to selecting a midi. Full, flared and pleated styles are popular and fun to wear — but choose wisely. If you have pronounced hips or a tummy, pleats that start right at the waistband may jut out awkwardly. Pleats that are stitched down to start lower on the skirt won’t add as much volume to your midsection. Plus-size line Eloquii has a pleat-free ponte circle skirt that hits just below the knee, a great choice if you want to avoid pleat problems.

Flared styles will balance your bust and play up your hourglass shape (if those are important priorities), but you can also experiment with midi pencil styles. Below-the-knee pencil skirts look great with tucked-in flowy blouses, retro cardigans and structured jackets.


Q: To save money, I was thinking about buying plastic/non-leather boots. Does it matter if I get real leather boots? Will non-leather keep me just as warm? I don’t need these boots to last me 10 years, but I definitely want them to last me a season or two.

A: Great question. But before I answer it, a quick redirect: If you’re going to wear these boots outside in winter, consider buying a pair of affordable snow boots for outdoor/commuter wear. Snow, water and salt will ruin both leather and faux leather pretty quickly.

In terms of leather vs. faux, I will always choose real leather because I find that faux doesn’t breathe and makes my feet uncomfortably clammy. (Not warm and toasty, mind you, just clammy.)

In terms of warmth, faux leather itself lacks insulating fibers and won’t keep you as warm on its own. But if you line faux leather boots with some lofty faux shearling it’ll be hard to tell the difference. So if you aren’t prone to clammy feet and want to save a few bucks, lined faux leather boots should serve you well.


Q: I would like to downplay my neck now that it is getting more wrinkled. I have a very short neck, though, so turtlenecks don’t work. I do wear scarves a lot, but don’t want to always wear them. Other suggestions?

A: Try pairing crew necklines with long pendant necklaces. Although high necklines help you cover more upper-body real estate, when worn on their own they can also visually shorten your neck. Add the vertical lines of a long pendant to the mix, however, and you get coverage plus a point of interest that falls well below neck-level. Other ways to draw focus down your figure and away from your neck include wearing bright belts, skirts or shoes with more subdued or neutral tops. Collared button-front shirts are another sophisticated option. They don’t hide the neck entirely, but they will downplay it by keeping it in shadow.


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