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Because Babies & Purses Are Pretty Much the Only Things I Know Stuff About

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I had a baby about four months ago. Now I’m stuck in the “I can’t wear my old clothes except for a few stretchy sweat pants and one pair of cords and one pair of my pre-five-month maternity pants that I won’t give up” place.

What can you do? I don’t want to go out and buy new pants (the tops are OK if I wear the baggier ones to accommodate the new size of my rack), but I need to attend some professional conferences while on maternity leave.

Help! What’s the best solution here?

Thank you!!!

I wish there was some totally and incredibly awesome secret to postpartum dressing I could share with you (Behold! The magical miracle pants! All the comfort of an elastic waistband with the high style of Prada!), but the fact is you just have to go with what works, and what will probably work is new pants.

I refused to wear maternity clothes postpartum because they made me desperately sad. So I either poured myself into pants that totally didn’t fit (Look! These jeans TOTALLY fit! All I have to do is wrap a ponytail holder around the button and rig up some kind of floatation device through the belt loops!) or slobbed out in sweats and yoga pants.

I wouldn’t recommend doing that first thing. I was kind of dumb. And squished.

So for those times when the sweats wouldn’t work, I bought some new pants. Two pairs of jeans and one pair of nice black pants. They were a size or two (okay, three) above what I normally wear, but hey they were REAL CLOTHES. They had NO SPANDEX TUMMY PANELS. I only wore them for a couple months, but they made me feel infinitely more human during those months, and for that fact alone, they were completely worth the money.

I also bought some long-ish skirts in my pre-pregnancy size and wore them hiked up above my waistline. They still hung okay, and as I lost weight they fell closer and closer to my actual weight and now they fit perfectly. Tricky!

Another reason to just buy some fat pants: Once you get closer to your pre-pregnancy size, you can put them on and marvel at just how far your body has come. The other day I pulled out those jeans and discovered that I didn’t even need to unzip the fly to get them on. I took them off and put on a damn miniskirt, because WHEEEE!

Dear Amalah,

I am one of the luckiest girls imaginable. I live in a fabulous city (San Francisco) with fabulous pets (four. yes four) and have fabulous friends. The best part of my lucky life though is my sweet and amazing boyfriend. He has excellent taste and every year for Valentine’s Day he picks out a lovely handbag as a gift for me. Yes, you read that right. He Picks It Out Himself. And they are great. This year he got me a gorgeous Kate Spade Easton Dane bag in orange.

I love it and use it every day. That’s my problem. The fabric is already starting to look pretty dirty on the corners and edges. I love the bag and want to get a full year of use out of it. Any suggestions on how to clean it?


I have heard tales of dry cleaners that specialize in handbags — cleaners that can Scotchguard the fabric and protect the leather trim without cross-contaminating the two — but I have not personally found one. Perhaps they are an urban legend, or maybe you need some kind of secret handshake, because I once took a fabric-and-leather Coach bucket purse to no less than four different cleaners with no luck. Two places told me flat-out that they didn’t do purses, one didn’t understand why I didn’t want the bag sent through the regular dry-cleaning machine, and the last one wanted me to leave the purse with them until Tuesday when their “leather guy” would be in.

I decided to clean it myself, thankyouverymuch.

First thing to do is vacuum the inside of the bag, if the lining is sturdy enough (a new bag should do just fine). Get all the dirt and debris out of all the pockets and nooks and crannies.

Next, test a small spot on the bag for colorfastness — if the lining is the same kind of fabric, test there. If not, try the bottom of an outside flap or some other inconspicuous area. Use warm water, a gentle soap like Woolite and a washcloth (also should be colorfast). BLOT. DON’T RUB.

If the bag’s color doesn’t bleed or fade, go to town and blot away. You should be able to get the bag pretty clean in no time. Let it air dry, and stuff it with paper or dry cloths or some wadded-up socks to keep the shape.

You can use a leather cleaner or moisturizer on the strap or trim, but check your individual purse’s care instructions first. (Coach Vachetta leather, for example, is to be left the hell alone.)

I’ve found the real key is to clean the purse fairly regularly BEFORE it gets all filthy and encrusted with grime. Or baby spit-up, if your kid has really excellent aim. Like mine.

Dear Ms. Amalah,

It seems to me you bought Strivectin (or a similar product) shortly after Noah’s birth.
My question is this: Does it work?

I have a three-year-old daughter, and also three-year-old stretch marks. Not even bad ones. Just one above and below my belly button. And while I realize the brilliant return policy at Sephora, I just want a straight answer from someone without an ulterior motive.

Kind Regards,

Bah. Stretch marks. Hate!

did buy Strivectin. And cocoa butter. And vitamin E. And Mederma. And possibly more alcohol than necessary.

Strivectin claims to “dramatically reduce the appearance of existing stretch marks (prominent because of their length, depth, texture and discoloration).” It also says it “alters the appearance of tone and texture.” It’s a high-maintenance regimen — you must apply the cream three times a day for at least six weeks, and the super-concentrated formula requires a lot of massaging before it’s completely absorbed. Oh, and it costs $135. Yikes.

I used Strivectin immediately after giving birth, then again after a couple of months. In those first few weeks, I have to say, it really sped up the fading process. It was especially good at treating those icky dark-colored lines. So it gets an A-plus in the ‘discoloration’ department.

But! Once those lines faded to that silvery-white color, that’s where the Strivectin magic stopped. For helping the ‘texture,’ it flunks out hardcore. Of course, this depends on whether the product is ACTUALLY claiming to improve the texture of the marks, or whether “altering the appearance of tone and texture” is really just kind of a wishy-washy promise. Like, “the lines won’t look like deep gaping chasms of scar tissue from 20 paces away, if the lighting is right, and you kind of squint.”
So if you’re looking to further fade your stretch marks or have ones that are still that angry purple-red color, Strivectin is probably the way to go. If the lines have already faded to white and you’re more concerned with smoothing the texture, save your money.

These days, I’m treating my stretch marks with with Vitamin E. I originally bought it for my c-section scar, but found that it really helps smooth the stretch marks out. Obviously, this could all be a function of TIME, but even my husband noticed a dramatic improvement in the overall look and feel of my abdomen after just a few days of using the serum. It’s super oily and greasy and takes forever to fully rub in, but at less than 12 bucks? I ain’t complaining.

Hello Amalah, thank you for your funny site and interesting advice on hair, foundation brushes, etc.
I have a Coach question (of course). I am a total handbag nut but I am in grad school so have never really ventured into the super-fancy/expensive territory. I’ve peaked at, like, Nine West. Or Aldo’s.
BUT, recently while visiting family in DC, I went shopping like 459 times (it was Labor Day weekend) and KEPT running into this one Coach bag. Oh, how I love this bag. I love fall. Tweed! Yay!

What I want to ask you is, in the past when you talk about your Coach bags, you mentioned how you get them with coupons or at scrap sales. Can you tell me how I can take advantage of this too? Or do I have to be a long-time Coach customer before they will clue me in to all their insider deals and stuff? I covet this bag, but it’s almost as much as my rent, and there is NO WAY any of my parents/relatives would even consider spending that much money on a single present for birthday/Chanukah. Please please help!

Thank you!

Oh, the Mysteries of the Coach Preferred Customer Program. I know them not.

(This is quickly becoming the Bad News Smackdown. Postpartum dressing? Yeah, you’re screwed. Strivectin? Meh.)

A couple times a year, Coach mails out 25% off coupons to their “preferred customers.” How exactly one becomes a preferred customer is anybody’s guess, but it definitely involves spending a lot of money first. I started getting the cards after buying two or three bags in the realm of omigodthemortgage. But I haven’t gotten one in awhile, so I’m wondering if Coach tracked my purchases and found that I only buy stuff when they send me coupons now, and dumped me from the list. Dumped! I am no longer preferred! I have been cut off! Am jonesing!

As for scrap/sample sales, I know someone who knows someone who works for the corporate offices for Coach. The employee scrap sales are an amazing thing, although employees are given a limit to how much they can buy, so my connection isn’t always super willing to blow a valuable Christmas gift slot on some girl she doesn’t know who wants yet another suede hobo, for the love of crackers.

Of course, there’s always the outlet stores and eBay. Not so great for those gorgeous limited edition bags that never make it to outlets and go for above retail on eBay, but if you’re diligent, you can find some amazing bargains.

Or you can see if your parents would be willing to go halfsies with you for the purse. Noah, for example, gets anything he wants by giving me a hug and gumming on my face. Feel free to try that.

Dear Queen Amalah,

While I’m not a mother, I’m sure that I share my problem with some of them!
I love DC! I love my long, straight hair. (Except that it’s not really straight.) BUT my long, “straight” hair does NOT love DC in the summer.

So, short of going G.I. Jane (NOT an option), moving away during the summer (not happening either), or wearing my hair up for most of the summer months, what can I do to ensure the least amount of frizziness possible during these fun, humidity-filled days?

Here’s my regimen, if it makes any difference to you!

— Shampoo (switch between Aveda Shampure, Bed Head Control Freak, and sometimes Matrix Biolage – I don’t believe that you’re a fan!)
— Conditioner (Bed Head Control Freak,
— Deep Condition – once to twice a week, either VO5 or something homemade – eggs, mayo, avocado – or Alterna Damage Control)
— Products: Alterna Straightening Balm or Bed Head Control Freak Syrum, some shaping spray that comes in a big white bottle from the salon with a name I can’t remember, and depending on the weather and how much time/product I want to put into my hair, some pomade to get rid of frizzies.)

Now, the kicker is that I flat-iron. Every other day. With a touch up on days I don’t wash my hair.

Thanks a mil!

P.S. I hate, hate, hate my curly hair…and don’t really see that as an option – unless it’s REALLY bad out!
P.P.S. Adore you! Ever wish that grown-ups could walk up to other grown-ups and say “I like you. Would you be my friend?” like we used to on the playground in elementary school?

I read this question in kind of a wild-eyed panic, because my hair? Is straight. Straaaaaight. One time I used a flatiron on it, just for fun, and this terrifying level of extreme straightness ripped a hole in the space/time continuum and created an alternate universe where Felicity never cut her hair off and Marcia Brady had an afro.

And crazily enough, my solution to masking the DC humidity frizz is to use scrunching products and sprays to make my hair fake-wavy. It’s not really wavy as much as bendy, but MY POINT IS, I am not qualified to answer this question.

So I sent it to the all-knowing and curly-haired Real Girl of, and promised her presents if she pinch-hit for this one. And hooray! She agreed. Here’s her take:

Curly to straight without frizzies? Ah, the motherload. Therefore, the thesis below.

Ok, first of all, your reader seems knowledgeable enough to know that she should be using a ceramic flatening iron, and that the more expensive ones are, indeed, better. (I’m fond of this site, on which you can sort by customer recommendations.)

Secondly, when she flat-irons, she needs heat protectant. The best heat-protectants in a product are silicones.

I wrote about them a few months ago, so scroll down past whatever I’m raving about on that day and you’ll learn all about silicones in serums and creams. Here’s a cut and paste of the good parts:

“But for girls who really go for blow-outs, with the brush and the drying or the ceramic hair irons you need something more. What my new fave lacks, alas, is the best heat protectant ingredient out there: silicones.

Silicones come with pluses and minuses, so let’s take a moment to break it down. No other ingredient will give you as much shine, de-frizzing, and heat protection. Silicones (which come in any number of variations on ingredients lists) are must-haves for women with normal-to-thick/coarse hair who blow dry, iron, or straighten often. However (why is there always a however?), many products with silicones don’t have enough to truly protect your hair, and the products that do have enough?

Can make it look greasy if you use too much. So there you are. The silicon scale. Reach the perfect middle and you get the best ingredient out there. Go too low and you get false confidence. Too high and you get ickiness. Ah, what a tricky path we tread.

The most silicone-packed hair products will be serums. These are the ones for the straighteners out there, but remember not to tip the scale and apply too much. Clearly, I wouldn’t be La Real Girl if I didn’t shove some options in your face. So, here.

(Has transit strike made Real Girl grumpy? Nahhhh.)

– philosophy curly head silicone hair serum
– BioSilk Silk Therapy
– Phyto Phytolisse Ultra Shine Smoothing Serum

But worry not if you don’t wish to go down the serum path. There be other options.
– Sebastian Potion 9 (famous and world-beloved!)
Frederic Fekkai Glossing Cream
– Joico Straight Edge Heat-Activated Curl Straightener (which can also keep wavy hair wavy, by the way!)
– Matrix Biolage Smoothing Shine Milk (An appropriately light option for fine hair.)
– Neutrogena Triple Moisture Sheer Hydration Leave-in Foam (This one people either love or hate, go figure.)
– Sebastian Laminates Crema Styler, Anti-Frizz Control (Best for thick, dry hair)
– Tigi Bed Head, Superstar Thermal Blow-Dry Hair Lotion

A word here, my lovelies, about application. One thing that bugs me about hair reporting (besides the fact that CNN doesn’t have a hair correspondent yet) is the over-used phrase “root to tip.” NOT EVERY HAIR PRODUCT should be applied root to tip. Silicone products? Like leave-in conditioners and most gels: Tip to root. Start low and work your way up because too much product at the top will weigh your roots down and make ’em greasy, which is (as we beauty correspondents say) yucky.”

For that post, my readers recommended the Biosilk above (and Biosilk products in general) and the Frederic Fekkai Glossing Cream (which is on the top of my list of products to try.) Also, one reader had this to say: “Matrix Sleek.Look Iron Smoother spray, for use with a flat iron, is awesome: you spray it on your hair just before you straighten it, and you get much straighter and smoother results, and it’s a protectant!” Another reader recommended Frederic Fekkai “Straight Away.”

The V05 Treatment is tried and true, as is plain old olive oil. It’s a great hair treatment to slather your hair in olive oil, wrap it in a plastic shower cap, and then blow dry it on the outside. Strengthens and softens!
Here’s another thought for your reader: Some frizz is actually hair breakage, which happens very often with curly hair because it tends to knot more often. If she puts her hair in rubber bands — even ouchless ones — she is risking hair breakage, which leads to fly-aways. So clip the hair, my friends. Always clip the hair back into a ponytail. And the clip shouldn’t be too, too tight.

The pomade isn’t a bad idea. I love Jonathan Dirt for taming flyaways. And hairspray isn’t a bad choice either for that. I love L’Oreal’s aerosol hairspray (can you believe it?) which can be used to smooth down the hair and doesn’t get crunchy if you’re not crazy with it.

I’m not 100% sure even “magician” David Blaine could tame frizzies in DC summer (“I will be setting the world record for the consecutive number of days in DC humidity With. No. Frizz. WHILE under water!”). But hopefully this will be a step in the right direction!

Thanks, Real Girl! Now stop being so awesome before someone realizes that I have no business writing this column.

If you would like to submit a question, email Amalah at [email protected]. By submitting a question, you agree to allow us to post your question here on

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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