Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Woman's Masculine Style Greeted With Derision

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a woman who despises black-tie events. I do not like wearing dresses, and I usually opt for slacks or a men’s-style suit. As you might imagine, this doesn’t go over well with some of my peers. I have gotten comments asking if I have gained weight because I am not wearing a form-fitting dress! Is it unbecoming of a woman to dress in more masculine attire at these events? -- Suit and Tie, Reisterstown, Maryland

DEAR SUIT AND TIE: It used to be that women exclusively wore full-length evening gowns to black-tie events. Today, it remains the most traditional way for women to dress at these gatherings, but the rules have relaxed a bit. Some women wear cocktail-length dresses, while others wear ensembles with pants. These can range from something very masculine -- essentially a tuxedo for a woman -- to a satin pant with a fitted or flowing jacket. Sometimes the bodices of these jackets are adorned with sequins or some other kind of sparkle.

You can choose what makes you feel comfortable, but you must also accept that there will be people who cast judgment on your attire. What will be important is that you feel comfortable in whatever you are wearing and that you are prepared to deflect whatever criticism comes your way.

DEAR HARRIETTE: For my birthday and holidays, I have been receiving money as a gift from my family. When I was in my early 20s and not very financially stable, this was very important to me. Now that I have moved out on my own, I want to establish myself as an adult who does not need a check around the holidays or on my birthday. How do I present this to my family? I don’t want to seem ungrateful, just independent. -- On My Own, Bronxville, New York

DEAR ON MY OWN: I don’t think it is a good idea to ask your family to stop giving you money. This is one way that they express their love to you. Rejecting it will likely hurt their feelings. Instead, you can honor their gift by saving it. Consider putting the monetary gifts that they offer you each birthday and holiday in a long-term savings instrument. Let it accrue interest over the years. Accepting this money in no way says that you are not independent. Saving it to have in the future, however, shows a level of responsibility and vision that will prove helpful to you down the road. When the day comes that you use this money to help purchase something essential for your life, you can share with your family that it was their contributions over the years that helped you to save for this important milestone.

If your family naturally stops giving you money at some point, no need to address that. Just keep saving so that you have a solid nest egg down the line. Also, when children come into the family, feel free to give them small monetary gifts. You might even set them up with a savings account and teach them how to put it away.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)