The Belly At Dawn
In the Pink

Wednesday Advice Smackdown

USUAL SUCKAGE DISCLAIMER BLAH BLAH BLAH: I have been up for many, many hours already as Cabinet Man was at our house at 6 am today for the final, official, swear-to-God-we're-actually-going-to-make-progress measurement of our kitchen.  So now we can order our cabinets and countertops and it looks like all our home renovations (which I figured would start in June), will start sometime in August. Which means I CANNOT GIVE BIRTH EARLY OR ELSE THERE WILL BE NO KITCHEN. Not that the baby will likely care about the kitchen, as I'll be his own personal feeding station, but I WILL CARE DEEPLY, as I plan to eat a lot of microwaveable popcorn while on maternity leave.

In other news, I went to the dermatologist this morning to get some various weird pregnancy-related skin things checked out. (All fine, just weird.) And in case you've ever wondered what sort of neighborhood I live in, consider this sign on display at the dermatologist's office.


Good to know! Thanks doc!

(Photo courtesy of my new! camera! phone! That I have had for two weeks and only recently learned how to 1) take pictures, and 2) get said pictures off the phone, because I'm an idiot who threw out the user's manual.)

And now on with that stupid advice thing.


I've been keeping up with your site for a few months now and I wanted to heap piles of praise your way. Thank you, thank you for sharing your life with all of us.

I recently bought a dress from eBay. I've never bought clothing online before (I buy most clothes based on texture and fabric, so Internet shopping scares me). It's a silk, strapless Philip DiCaprio at a price I could not beat. The dress should arrive on my doorstep today, but I'm already sure it will be about two sizes too big. I get the sense that you hover at the bottom of the size scale. I live there, too.

So here is my dilemma, which I humbly submit to your Internet/DC/beauty expertise. First, do you have any general Internet clothing shopping tips -- warning signs, questions to ask sellers, etc.? But more urgently, what do I do with my new, too big dress? I'd like to take it to a tailor (I live in NW DC), but I don't know how to find someone reputable. I also don't know what to say to them, other than "make it fit better." Is there a special tailor lingo? Is it okay to take it to a dry cleaners with a sign in the window screaming "ALTERATIONS," or should I go to a fancy department store? How do I get the best bargain, and what is a reasonable price?


I've bought stuff off eBay too -- most notably a designer bridesmaid dress for $50. It was exactly my size, but the seller neglected to mention that she'd had the dress altered down to a size zero, or possibly a negative 12. So, you know, that's my new top question to ask: Has the item been altered, and if so, was any fabric cut? (I also won't buy anything from super-inexperienced sellers, anyone without a lot of positive feedback, or from sellers who don't use PayPal and require that I mail them a check or something before they'll ship the item out. And since I mostly use eBay for designer stuff, I look for stuff that's "NWT" (new with tags) and a guarantee of authenticity.)

Luckily for my dress, nothing had been cut from the dress, so after a few minutes of ripping out seams I was able to actually get the thing on and not feel like such a whale compared to the dress' previous owner, who may or may not have have been a very tall nine-year-old girl.

Then I took it to my mom's house to have her run some of seams BACK in because I have no breasts.

But since my mom does not moonlight as a seamstress unless I show up whining, garment in hand, trying to save money because I will spend $90 on pants but won't pay $10 to have them hemmed, I guess that doesn't help you much.

Unless you've heard really good things about a dry cleaners' tailoring services, I wouldn't risk taking a nice, irreplaceable dress there. Maybe do a test run and have them hem some pants or take in a dress that you don't care so much about first. Otherwise, ask your friends for recommendations. Call a bridal shop and ask where they send their customers for alterations. Or just take it to Nordstrom's, because they're awesome and would probably alter a burlap sack for you and not even bat an eye.

OR! We could ask my DC-area readers for their tailoring recommendations. Yes, let's do that too. Anyone?


I have a head full of thick (THICK!) yet fine and oily hair. It’s naturally wavy so if I get it layered just right it curls up real nice on its own. I’m using Suave Volumizing Shampoo and Conditioner (compare to Matrix!) and was wondering if you knew of any other products that work to get curl without weighing down hair.

If my hair wasn’t oily it wouldn’t be such an issue. I don’t usually dry my hair, just my bangs (I was blessed with two cowlicks, yay me).

BTW, I took your advice on training bangs to go in a certain style and it worked for me.


Suave shampoo? Like from the drugstore?

Oy, the blow to my heart, it hurts.

I used to think I had really oily hair too, back in high school and college. I was also using drugstore-brand shampoos and conditioners. (Pantene, bleharrrgh.) Guess what! My hair is not so very oily after all. It just gets angry at cheapness and inferiority. Please, throw out the Suave and invest in a salon-quality shampoo. Pleeeeease.

My absolute favorite volumizing shampoo and conditioner are from the Graham Webb Halo line. They're perfect for ultra-fine hair like ours because they're very light and gentle, but still do a fabulous job of getting rid of product build-up so our roots stay squeaky-clean and oil-free all day. Use the shampoo ONLY on your roots, and use the conditioner ONLY on your ends. I cannot stress this enough.

If you're still looking for some extra curl, try Catwalk Curls Rock Booster, from the good people who brought us my beloved Bed Head line. Spray it on wet hair (avoiding your roots and bangs, of course), scrunch a couple times and let dry. Ta-da! It's an ultra-light aerosol spray, and as long as you're following the roots-and-ends rule of shampoo and conditioner, you should be able to use it without seeing any extra oil or ickiness.

Dear Amalah,

I recently went to the salon (yesterday) for a change. I wanted dark copper/red on the underside of my hair with kicky blonde and dark copper/red highlights on the top. I ended up looking like Donatella Versace, which as you can imagine, was so very NOT the look I was going for. There are no copper/red highlights or chunks anywhere to be found on my head. Yet, I now have dark roots and orange hair when I once had naturally dark blonde hair. What should I do? Please refer to orange photo of self.


Well, for starters, I don't think you look very orange at all. You do look washed out, though, because you're right -- there's no contrast or highlights anywhere in your hair.

For seconders, copper and red highlights on blonde hair are REALLY difficult to achieve. I tried strawberry blonde highlights once, and just ended up looking...more blonde. Like platinum blonde with some vague goldish tones that mostly looked like I'd done a peroxide bottle-job on myself. And this was at a very nice salon with my favorite colorist in the world. (Who just had her baby! And who will be coming back to work soon! Hallelujah! Saints be praised and etc.!)

So I'm not surprised your highlights didn't work out as planned. But the only way to fix your color is to get...well, more highlights.

Or more accurately, you need lowlights. Preferably in your natural shade of dark blonde, possibly a shade darker to anticipate for fading. But before you get more color on you hair (which from your photo looks like it's fairly fine and probably in agony after all the coloring you've had already), take some time to get your hair really healthy and re-moisturized.

Highlights on dried-out, over-processed hair are ALWAYS a disaster. The color sets really quickly and never comes out as anticipated, and then fades to some other non-anticipated color within a week.

So. Buy a deep conditioner or hot oil treatment, and see if your salon offers a professional deep conditioning treatment. Splurge for one about a week before you plan to re-color, and use a deep or restorative conditioner (on. your. ends.) at home every day after that. Then go back to the salon and tell them you want lowlights in your natural color. Go for small foils -- no big crazy chunks or anything, and get your whole head done. That should bring down the blonde!blonde!blonde! to a more natural and non-Donatella level.

Dear Amalah,

I am a professional bellydancer in need of hair help!

I like to set my hair in steam rollers and wear it loosely curled for shows. When I first come out to do a show, it looks great (like this). The problem is, I sweat a LOT when I dance, and my hair looks like that pretty picture for about 3 minutes. Then it starts to melt (like this), and then it completely falls apart. And this is only for the FIRST show - I may have up to four in a single night.

So my question is - is there ANY product that will keep my hair from doing the total meltdown?? I have worn three-quarter falls and such in the past to avoid this issue entirely, but I tend to be more timid when I'm dancing with fake hair, because I'm afraid it will slide out and land in somebody's hummus plate or something. Please help! :)


MAN, my life is so boring. I wish I did something cool like professional belly dancing. And I wish I didn't have the overwhelming urge to make some stupid joke about my belly always dancing these days because of the wee karate-chopper I'm currently incubating, because that is LAME and STUPID.

What is also stupid is that you've kind of stumped me. If you're sweating a lot, the LAST thing I can recommend are a lot of styling products in your hair, because they'll melt down along with your hair (possibly pulling the curl out even faster), and could even end up running down your face and into your eyes, which would NOT be good, and you could sue me for beauty-product-related blinding.

And that's the reason that gymnasts, cheerleaders and ballet dancers wear their hair slicked back in tight buns and ponytails and use 400 bobby pins. Is there some sort of hair code or rule for belly dancing that says your hair should be completely down and free? You might want to experiment with pinning just the front of your hair back, since the sweat factor is usually the worst right along the forehead and hairline. This way, the meltdown won't be quite so noticeable at first, since the back of your hair should hold on to the curl a little longer.

If that's not an option, you could try a few of the tips I gleaned from some ballroom and Irish step dance sites, where the participants do wear their hair down and curled.

They recommend using soft curlers instead of hot rollers. (That girl on the homepage looks extremely freaky and Raggedy-Anne-like, but I get what they're going for. You just need to not use so damn many curlers or find a larger-sized brand.) Curls created with heat or steam are not going to be as tight or long-lasting as curls from letting wet hair dry naturally while wrapped tightly in curlers. Curlers are a pain in the ass, of course, since it takes FOREVER for hair to dry when wrapped up all tight, so unless you can sleep with them in, you're walking around with curlers in your hair ALL DAY.

But! Those curls look like they'd make it through at least two or three shows, and could probably be re-formed with some scrunching and extra hairspray fairly easily.

So you could either: 1) Put the curlers in at night, sleep on them, take them out in the morning and wrap your head loosely in a bandanna or scarf during the day to protect the curls until your show, or 2) Put the curlers in a couple hours before the show and try to speed up the process with a blowdryer (again, adding heat might make for less durable curls, but I know we all have reasonable limits for how much time we want to devote to our quest for the perfect hair).

So try that, or like, AquaNet hairspray. I played field hockey in junior high and we'd all spray up our big, curled-up bangs with AquaNet before our games and hell, my bangs stayed pretty damn big the whole time. (Of course, I was not a very good player and probably spent most of my time on the field trying to stay as far away from the actual hockey aspect of the game as possible.)

Blah blah blah big-ass backlog don't expect and answer right away and if you're asking about hair, PLEASE include a photo (which I won't post unless you specifically tell me that's okay) and as many details as possible instead of just sending me questions that say, "I have hair on my head. What products should I be using?" Because I don't know. Have you tried mayonnaise?



I was totally going to recommend Nordstrom's for altering as I was reading the dress question...they are THE ONLY place in the DC area that I trust. They will alter anything you bought anywhere, and make it look like it came that way, they are FABULOUS. I have had suits, pants, and evening dresses done there, with NOT ONE mistake.


And my day is complete...


Thanks for the tips, Amalah. No, it's not written in stone that I have to wear my hair down, but people do tend to expect it. Plus, there are some dances that you do where you have to toss your hair around, and it's just weird if you're tossing around fake hair (not to mention nervewracking!).

I think I *may* have found one product that helps hold the curl at least through a show - Dep Sport Gel. Yeah, it totally dries my hair out and it's impossible to shampoo out, but - I look good when I'm performing! So, yay! :)

Curly Haired Girl

Tanya, you can also try Ouidad products ( The products I've used have a watery consistency and are super-light. Another tip (that I use each morning) would be after putting in gel, turn your head upside down and use a towel to blot the water out (like squeezing the curls, but gently) and then use a dryer with diffuser on low heat. You may want to also check out the book Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey and Deborah Chiel.

Amy - I got a pair of Sevens at Steinmart ($50!!) but am afraid to take them to my normal dry cleaning alteration place, thanks for the Nordstrom suggestion!


Lucy - rather than use a blow dryer to help along the drying process of the soft curlers, try an old fashioned hair dryer, you know the kind, like your mom used to have, you sit under it. Keep it on a low, barely above cool setting. It'll speed up the drying process without the "wind" of the blow drying pulling your hair out of the curlers. Good luck!

Real Girl

Ok, kind of a "duh" comment, but Lucy, are you able to bring a travel hair dryer to use between shows (I like the foldable one by Conair)? If you flip your hair over and dry while scrunching, your curls will likely reform and then you'll also get more body.


Oh! Oh! And I forgot!

For the sweaty and/or oily hair, you can also try Bumble & Bumble Hair Powder. It works like baby powder or cornstarch (absorbs the oil and sweat near your roots, leaving it just-washed-looking), but it comes in COLORS like black, red or brown so it doesn't make non-blonde hair look all gray and powder-y.

It's hard to find though, but if you can get your hands on some, it's a nice option for absorbing excess oil pre-Happy Hour or whatever without having to shower.

Humor Girl


But hey!! I use the cheapest of the cheap
and my hair doesn't look greasy!? Maybe White Rain is the exception. I had NO luck with Suave or Pantiene.


Ooh, good point on the travel hair dryer. You know, I was thinking of buying one, but then I couldn't find one in the stores and I'd started to think I was imagining a product that didn't exist! Good to know I'm not nuts (well, with regard to travel hair dryers, at least).


I loooooove eBay, and found the Bumble & Bumble Hair Powder out there ... cool!


I don't normally give fashion/beauty advice, but for Ellen, if Springfield, Va., isn't too much of a trek, I recommend calling the David's Bridal (ugh) and asking for the gal they send folks to for alterations. I believe her name is "Tiggy" or something along those lines -- she altered a wedding dress for a seven-months-pregnant friend of mine last year and she did SPECTACULAR work!

As for Lucy, your hair is absolutely gorgeous, but did you ever think of buying one of those clip-on ponytail styles? There's a shop outside Nordstrom's (second floor, I think) at Pentagon City, and they have all kinds of nifty styles in absolutely every color under the sun. There's a new product that i haven't tried but it's like a headband with long, flowing hair, only people won't see the headband. They had a curly style and a wavy style. Those might hold up better during your performances, and they require having your hair pulled back a bit from your face, so your skin gets to breathe, the curls remain intact and everybody wins!


ah, the mayonnaise thing for hair.
i have never thought of that...
Possibly an interesting secret from the queen herself....
Thank you for that advice, really, it made me laugh!

another franci

i wasn't going to post any beauty tips as i am sorely lacking in beauty advice. i did, however want to post that my family doctor (not dermotologist) has signs all over her office for botox/facial peels. it makes me feel intimidated whenever i go in, thinking that the leathery old women in the waiting room are getting botulism while i am seeking help for a cold or subjecting my kids to vaccinations, heh.

another thing, imagine my surprise when i read all the comments then went to post and thought (for a half a second) that i had already posted one. HA! i don't often come across another person named franci. we are few and far between.


To NW DC looking for a tailor - I have lots of experience with different tailors and I highly recommend European Custom Tailors in Cleveland Park (right by the post office on Connecticut). You don't have to tell him anything other than "make it fit right" and he does a great job.



Amalah, as usual, rock on.


Thanks for the advice! I found a great deal on Halo shampoo and conditioner on eBay (33 oz bottles YES!) I'll look into the hair powder but I may not have to resort to that until I re-enter the workforce (i.e. leave my house wearing anything but jeans and a t-shirt.

It would be nice to not have to rely on just the cut to get nice curls because sometimes the cut just doesn't work. Same stylist, too. *shrug*


Oh, no, Franci. You were kidding, and I am sure Amalah was kidding. In case you weren't, though, and you have some sort of 13 year old urge to mayo-up your hair in order to achieve shine and smoothness-- PLEASE DON'T!! I did this (recently actually, which is embarrassing. I want to say I was drunk, but I was actually just kind of bored), and spent the next three days smelling like a turkey sandwich. Something about the mayo completely adhered to my hair and WOULD NOT GET OUT. It was unbearable. Please save yourself three days of Subway-scented grease-fest.


Thanks, Amalah and kind readers, for all the great tailoring advice! I hadn't thought of calling bridal shops. You're all very smart and very sweet to share a little of it with me.


EBay question - where do the sellers of "authentic" items get all their stuff? Some people have piles of NWT items? Mafia? Knock-offs?

Just curious if anyone knows...


Oh, Dev - how can ANYONE be serious about applying mayo to his/her hair, for God's sake?
Are there real people who would actually do such a thing?
Sure the hell I was kidding. And I was completely aware that Amalah was kidding, too.


Laura I know of one person who sells things like mad on e-Bay. She works at a high-end beauty supply store, buys popular items with her employee discount, then sells them on e-Bay for higher prices. It's ridiculous that you can buy the same stuff for pretty low prices at sites like or ... some people are just hooked on the whole "bidding and winning" thrill you get on e-Bay.


A lot of people go to places like Goodwill and pay a few dollars for NWT clothing that well-heeled women buy, never wear then donate. A friend of mine does this to supplement her mother's income as she is disabled and cannot work anymore and doesn't feel right having her mother pay for all the bills. If anyone is interested in her eBay store the link is on my blog.

I used to use lemon juice on my hair in high school for the highlights. I can just hear Amy cringing right now...LOL


Another note for Lucy: I was a lindy hop performer for a few years in Texas (think outside, summer, 108 degrees and dancing). I have straight as a board hair, but had to wear it in a curled 40s style for performances. I used sponge rollers with old fashioned setting lotion and then sprayed each curl with this AWFUL smelling but incredibly effective hairspray called New Image (both available at Sally's). It leaves the hair feeling very stiff, but it still bounces and moves and it holds through anything, like rollercoasters and drizzle and massive amounts of sweat. And it washes out well, too.


You are the BEST, Miss Amalah! Thank you for your outstanding advice. Am going to ditch the Donatella look Thursday and will request lowlights. Hurray!

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