Anyone for Coats and Boots?

Question: When does the high street start sending out promotional emails advertising their new season coats and boots?

Answer: The very same week London temperatures are reportedly beating those in Ibiza.

One such email has attempted to grab my attention by screaming “20% off!” Well, whose idea was that I wonder because 20% off these days is no great shakes any day of the week but when you’re trying to flog coats in this heat it’s akin to offering 3 for 2 Big Macs to a bunch of vegans.

In short, most Londoners are not thinking about layering at this point although there’s always a risk involved with that sort of brazen behaviour here in the UK. I very quickly got into the habit of going to work without so much as a cardigan only to sit at my desk shivering because someone left the air conditioning on overnight. It must be nearly August. ‘Silly Season’ my dad, a newspaper man, used to call it. Silly because there doesn’t tend to be much news around, cities empty as families go off on holiday and consequently far fewer newspapers and magazines are bought. And then there’s the fashion world where the sale stock runs out and shops have to refill their rails with the autumn ranges meaning we’re faced with an abundance of knitwear and overcoats when what we really covet is the perfect bikini, an ice cold mojito and an electric fan. It doesn’t get much more silly than that.

Given that our seasons here in the UK are so blurred nowadays, designers are offering what they call a ‘resort’ or ‘cruise’ collection which is basically a stopgap between the flimsy styles of high summer and the heavy dark fabrics of mid winter. It may be second nature for those in the fashion know to purchase their new season capsule wardrobe before they’ve even taken their summer holiday but for me August is a month to lay off the shops. That way I inadvertently save money for October when I’ll be more than ready to embrace Autumn 2014 and all it has to offer.

Roland Mouret for Banana Republic dress £85

All that said, I can’t help but think about shopping even if I’m not doing it (OK I may have splurged on the Reiss sale last week but it is only July after all). And then I started to notice previews of the Roland Mouret collection for Banana Republic and it got the juices flowing dammit. This collection of over twenty pieces is out on the 7th August but is versatile enough to be relevant in the current warm weather. Mouret’s own explanation of his first high street collaboration made me snigger; “An incredible fit through an assortment of hourglass silhouettes using Banana Republic’s Sloan fabric extending my love of structure into accessible prices”. In other words, the fabulously flattering dresses which first propelled Mouret to fame are recreated here but using a totally different fabric (the quality of which typically differentiates designer from high street) produced by Banana Republic so if you don’t like it, blame them not him.

Next up is the somewhat surprising partnership between Marks and Spencer and model David Gandy. Gandy features heavily in the social sections of glossy magazines so you could be forgiven for thinking he was a male version of Alexa Chung. But where Chung has fronted a television show, written a book and errm, dated a couple of musicians, Gandy is merely a male model – admittedly a famous one – and while a delicious specimen, he’s not usually held up as a fashion icon. Will the safe and middle-aged Autograph customer be impressed by Gandy’s involvement or will it entice younger, cooler customers away from somewhere like Reiss? We will see when the collection drops on 18th September but I’m not convinced and think it’s safe to say the link between David Gandy, male model and M&S is tenuous. To put it in the words of M&S director of menswear Scott Fyfe, “This collaboration brings together our market leading expertise with David’s unique viewpoint and eye for design and finishing.” Here is a picture of Mr David Gandy indeed demonstrating, I think you’ll agree, a unique viewpoint.

David Gandy: "An eye for finishing" apparently.

David Gandy: “An eye for finishing” apparently.

Olivia Palermo is the newest kid on the collaboration block with her association with Italian accessories house Aquazzura announced just this week. Palermo is known mainly, if not solely for being a very attractive clothes horse and it is a label she wears well (heehee). Recently married to her equally divine looking boyfriend, Palermo is a regular at the fashion weeks and never is she photographed without her outfit undergoing intense scrutiny. Rarely does she put a foot wrong so it’s intriguing to hear she is dipping a toe (oh I’m on pun fire) into the world of designing shoes. A brand such as Aquazzura is unlikely to invest on a whim and with the collection remaining relatively exclusive (only available on Net a Porter in the UK) I imagine this will be an instant sell-out despite Palermo’s lack of experience.

Teaser design released by Aquazzura this week

Teaser design released by Aquazzura this week

Last but not least, Alexander Wang for H&M. Who isn’t waiting with baited breath for this latest collaboration between the Swedish giant and the cutting edge Wang? A teaser photo released last week showed little more than a logo and yet still it served to excite. By the time the November 6th launch date arrives, the momentum will be out of control – we all know by now that any H&M collaboration will sell out in minutes and given the mark-up potential on eBay, I’m not convinced it matters if you even like what you buy.

Alexander Wang Autumn 2014

Alexander Wang Autumn 2014

“He understands exactly what people want to wear and does it with an energy and passion that’s infectious” says H&M Creative Advisor Margareta van der Bosch. They’re not giving much away over there in Stockholm but we have been told Wang’s collection will be “muted and sporty”. This brief description is perhaps what prompted the internet buzz that the ambiguous image released was in fact a Wang designed yoga mat. You don’t get much more muted than a yoga mat. I’ll mark the date in my diary and have a squizz online if the website doesn’t crash, but I sure as hell ain’t camping overnight outside H&M on Oxford Street for a black yoga mat.

Alexander Wang Ready to Wear Autumn 2014

Alexander Wang Ready to Wear Autumn 2014

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How to Keep Your Head (and Everything Else) Above Water

Once upon a time in a town not far from here, six young ladies decided to go on holiday together. Now these six young ladies had just taken their ‘A’ levels, were soon to leave school for good and to embark upon the next exciting stage of their lives. In those heady days of summer the girls shared everything – laughs, clothes, boyfriends. The sun always seemed to be shining and the six girls were young and wrinkle free with no thoughts of house prices, tax credits or buggered pelvic floor muscles. This being 1990, free radicals and super foods had yet to be invented and the girls thought nothing of living off humous, pitta bread and chocolate cake. No-one had even heard of Pilates or the Kardashians.

Halterneck bikini £14.99 at H&M

Halterneck bikini £14.99 at H&M

And so it came to pass that as their holiday to a Greek island (that shall remain nameless for fear of ruining the atmosphere of the story and giving entirely the wrong impression of these lovely well brought up girls) approached, book lists were drawn up, sun cream purchased and a group waxing appointment was booked. Having grown up in the 80s, none of the girls had had their legs waxed before as anything other than a disposable Bic razor was seen as flash. When the big day arrived, the girls trotted off to the local department store where by some miracle there happened to be a treatment room big enough for them all to squeeze into along with the somewhat bemused therapist. The bravest of all the girls, a golden ringletted girl called Hannah, agreed to be the first to climb onto the bed as the other five watched through their fingers. One of the girls’ mums had once said that having a bikini wax was “more painful than childbirth” (although she denies it now) and so with the pain of childbirth still at least a decade off and their legs now shiny smooth, the girls went their separate ways for a challenge far greater than any other so far in their eighteen years. A mission so terrifying that in these pre-internet days, at least one of them had resorted to the Freemans catalogue in order to tackle the problem under cover of darkness at home.

Yes, with 60 GCSEs between them, not one of them had found the answer to this most tricky of life’s problems. The final hurdle was swimwear shopping.

Adidas bikini at Next

Adidas bikini at Next

Lest we forget, in 1990 there was no such thing as buying the tops and bottoms separately, bra sized bikini tops didn’t exist and the use of lycra and padding was limited. As if that wasn’t bad enough, many shops still had communal fitting rooms.  My friend Kerry actually made her own bikinis at university in the early 80s – can you imagine? I didn’t think students even made their own bed. I’d like to take a moment to be thankful for how far we’ve come in the last twenty years (curtains to hide behind! Underwiring! Relaxed refund policies!) and yet shopping for beachwear is still for many the most dreaded task of all.

Panache bikini £31 at Figleaves.com

Panache bikini £31 at Figleaves.com

This year, (holidaying with the boyfriend for the first time after all – you recall the holdall saga, right?) I made all my bikini purchases from the comfort of my own home where I tried them on, adjusted the straps and ties to my heart’s content, jumped up and down in them and experimented with poses in them. All in flattering lighting and without the commentary from my three year old who thinks it’s helpful to point out spots, bruises and anything on the body that moves independently. So avoiding high street fitting rooms would be my first suggestion and here are a few pointers that might ease the pain:

Ruffle bikini top £9.99 at H&M

Ruffle bikini top £9.99 at H&M

1. Go for ruffles and frills if you’re flat of chest and want to add an inch or two

2. Obvs avoid the above along with bandeau or triangle styles if you’re top heavy

3. All in one styles with side panels are hugely slimming but avoid if you have a long body and short legs.

All in one £47 at Sweaty Betty

All in one £47 at Sweaty Betty

4. Moulded or lightly padded tops keep their shape better but also take longer to dry.

5. Always have a pair of black bikini bottoms on hand as almost any top can be worn with them. I’m not a fan of the mismatched look but if it’s good enough for Mossy…

6. Don’t forget if you must sit on the shore for hours on end with the waves gently going back and forth, when you finally get up chances are your gusset will have filled with sand so that when you stand up your bikini bottoms will be so heavy with the extra weight they will sag in a most unfeminine manner. This has never happened to me of course. 

Oh and if you were wondering what happened to the six lovely ladies, well such was their swimwear panic, they all bought a variation on the safe black swimsuit theme. They spent the fortnight lying in a hungover row on the beach like a Greek island version of a Robert Palmer video.

Sequin kaftan £24.50 at MIss Selfridge

Sequin kaftan £24.50 at MIss Selfridge

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A Dress A Day

You know those days when you go out with a list and a steely determination to get everything done no matter what? Only you don’t think to include ‘stop for coffee and cake’ to the list and once that’s wriggled its way into your schedule at no.2 (no.1 was ‘get petrol’ which doesn’t really count since if you hadn’t done that you wouldn’t have got to no.2) you’re really behind so you might as well have a natter on the phone while you’re sitting down. No.3 (formerly no.2) inevitably gets knocked off the list as it’s not urgent – you were supposed to ‘return bra to M&S’ but since you only bought it in order to reach the £10 spend needed to get free parking for an hour, it would probably look more genuine if you kept it for 24 hours anyway.

Best for Skinny Minnies

Pleated dress by French Connection, reduced to £85

Pleated dress by French Connection, reduced to £85

Everyone knows you should do the most dreaded tasks first to get them out of the way so you don’t drag your feet through the more pleasurable things such as no.3 ‘buy birthday present for Mum’. This turns into a rummage in Gap where you unearth a beautiful powder blue bag you featured in this very blog months ago but couldn’t afford – now selling at 70% off! You get into a conversation with the studenty-type cashier about whether or not the rather sexy looking male model featured in the poster above the till is in fact the actor who plays Junior in Breaking Bad, as disturbingly you quite fancy him (the actor not the cashier). The cashier looks unwashed and while you don’t have many expectations when it comes to Gap, wholesome staff strangely is one of them. The unwashed not on-brand cashier says he doesn’t know as he didn’t see Breaking Bad. It then becomes a discussion about how you were only now watching it yourself and you thought you were the only person in the world not to have watched when it was aired. This is actually a lie as just last night you had a conversation with a friend who posted on Facebook that she was the only person in the world to be watching Breaking Bad now and not only you but three others chimed in with the same thing.

Best for next season                                                                              Best for holidays

Lace dress by Whistles, £65

Lace dress by Whistles, reduced to £65

4 in 1 stretch dress by Gap, reduced to £24.99

4 in 1 stretch dress by Gap, reduced to £24.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best for Pear Shapes

Maxi dress by River Island £30

Maxi dress by River Island £30

There’s just never enough time and (here comes the link) that’s why getting dressed in the summer is so much easier, or at least it should be. I absolutely swear by dresses because put on a dress and you’re done. You genuinely only need think about what shoes to put with a dress and in that respect really anything goes.* If you’ve got legs that aren’t ready for exposure then you wear a maxi dress, if you feel overdressed in a dress in the daytime wear it with trainers and a denim jacket, if you worry about getting tan lines with a strappy dress get one with detachable straps.

Best for Hourglass shapes

Silk dress by French Connection reduced to £90

Silk dress by French Connection reduced to £90

There is a dress for every occasion and for every shape this season. Soon enough we’ll be back in layers of wool, denim and leather so go buy a dress! There are LOADS of fabulous styles out there and most of them are half price now. Clean the bathroom and put the washing on before you leave the house or get coffee and then reward yourself.

What are you waiting for?!

 

Best for Everyday

Cynthia Rowley lycra dress at TK Maxx, £16

Cynthia Rowley lycra dress at TK Maxx, £16

 

 

 

Best for Anyone at Anytime

Shirt dress by Hobbs, reduced to £29

Shirt dress by Hobbs, reduced to £29

 

 

 

 

* Anything, that is, except for Crocs.

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.frenchconnection.com

http://www.gap.com

http://www.riverisland.co.uk

http://www.tkmaxx.com

http://www.hobbs.com

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The Wonders of Wimbledon or Why it’s OK to Lose

I am rubbish at tennis, always have been, but I do love to watch it. Last year’s incredible final with Andy Murray’s long awaited win will forever be etched on my memory – I could hardly stand to watch and was in and out of the house, half sunbathing, half keeping check on the score. History was being made. Today it feels hard to believe we will see the like again for a very long time.

H&M skirt £10 from £19.99

H&M skirt £10 from £19.99

I don’t know if it’s because I went to school in Wimbledon and was subsequently a ballgirl at the Queen’s tournament (we followed a young Pat Cash around the grounds giggling and ate a lot of crisps) or if it’s because after visiting the SW19 tournament, and experiencing the glamour and excitement first hand, I caught the tennis bug.

Back in the day when you could gain entry to the All England Club using a ticket handed over by spectators leaving the ground, it was Chris Evert Lloyd and Stefan Edberg we went to see. They were the lookers – not difficult – and when once in a while they actually went on to win, the novelty value alone was worth the hike up the hill in our school uniform.

We adored Bjorn Borg for his quiet brilliance and lion-esque appearance and sniggered at John McEnroe with his inability to keep his cool, his frizzy hair and pale skin. I couldn’t help having a soft spot for Jimmy Connors; something about his ridiculously straight ‘one-style only’ hair and grumpy demeanour, (oh dear, suddenly I’m realising this might be my ‘thing’) and was secretly pleased that he’d stolen Chris Evert Lloyd from her boring transatlantic accented husband John Lloyd.

John Zack at ASOS reduced to £18

John Zack at ASOS reduced to £18


chrisevert

Chris Evert

But mostly I loved Chrissy Evert (as she sensibly reverted to post inevitable divorce) because she looked so pretty. No matter how many sweltering finals she lost to Martina Navratilova, she won the fashion contest hands down. Not really the point I know, but surely a consolation? At the risk of sounding like John Inverdale, the minute Martina showed up on court in shorts and glasses, there was no competition. She may have been adhering to the ‘predominantly white’ rule, but they’re a traditional lot in Wimbledon and although it wasn’t well received the shorts became this record breaking champion’s signature look. The spandex catsuit that Anne White sported in 1985 however, only appeared the once. I mean really, can you imagine that much nylon worn that snugly in that many sweaty areas?

Anne White in 1985

Anne White plays Wimbledon 1985 style

Does anyone remember the year Maria Sharapova actually won the tournament or do her outfits spring to mind far more easily? It isn’t a coincidence that she’s attractive of course but her more imaginative take on tennis whites is certainly what keep my (only vague) interest in her.

Hair piece at H&M £7.99

Hair piece at H&M £7.99


mariatennis

Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon 2008


Set of hairbands at Accessorize £12

Set of hairbands at Accessorize £12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite Maria prematurely exiting the tournament this year, her boyfriend, the not very ugly Grigor Dimitrov, (who officially I’m sulking about because he’s just knocked out our Andy) is still in. Now I’m wondering a) will she be there to watch his semi final or might she still be moping? and b) if she does, what will she wear? Because after all, this is his big moment and she doesn’t want to be a distraction an’ all but if you are the girlfriend/wife in the players’ box then you will be looked at and you will be photographed doing any one or more of the following things:

1. laughing

Nike trainers at ASOS reduced to £54

Nike trainers at ASOS reduced to £54

2. grimacing

3. clapping

4. throwing your hands up in despair

5. performing a Mexican wave.

Banana Republic top £22.99

Banana Republic top £22.99

 

 

It’s a minefield I tell you. This is why girlfriends and wives (let’s call them GAWs) historically sit very still behind their designer sunglasses. We only ever see them from the boobs up so they could be wearing the back half of a pantomime horse from the waist down for all we know, but one thing’s for sure, the hair is styled to perfection so not even the South West London weather can ruffle it. I personally couldn’t be a tennis GAW (although I smiled at Tim Henman once when he walked past me at my sister’s health club so I was as good as…) because I pull stupid faces constantly, my hair kinks up at the mere sight of the kettle boiling and I have to eat fattening foods during nerve-wracking matches – GAWs don’t eat EVER.

Lacoste dress at ASOS £70

Lacoste dress at ASOS £70

The arrival of the Williams sisters changed the look of women’s tennis forever with their extrovert on-court attire. The players have always worn good luck charms and hairbands but Serena is never seen without a full manicure and sister Venus wears dresses so clingy they leave little to the imagination. Far from restricting the players to a dull uniform of all white, the All England Club’s strict rules on the kit worn there seems to bring out the style mavericks. I love it! And look at all the Wimbledon inspired bits and pieces you can buy on the high street at the moment. Love the gear, no idea. Now where did I put my sunglasses?

The Williams sisters win the doubles 2007

The Williams sisters win the doubles 2007

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Under the Counter and Above the Shop

shops5There were two things that caught my attention in Tuesday night’s opening episode of the new three part documentary ‘Shopgirls’ shown on BBC2. Firstly, the description by London society hostess and journalist Lady Mary Jeune of the shopping experience in the 1800s as being “a solemn and dreary affair”. Secondly, that in 1851 there were 2.5 million unmarried self-supporting women in Great Britain. What a fascinating thing – all those ladies with their own income and yet a day perusing the shops was joyless. No retail therapy for them then. No doubt the retail industry feel good factor was in short supply when in 1860 after the introduction of female shop assistants, many were either struck down with ill health (sometimes even resulting in infertility) due to the long hours standing on their feet or graduated into prostitution; in the case of an outlet in London’s smart Burlington Arcade, carrying out the extra curricular duties in the room above the shop.

It’s hard to imagine a Britain where there were half a million more women than men – dating must have been even worse then it is now and what did all the women if they weren’t shopping one wonders? No wonder there was a movement to get all these single women working in the shops. Although Regent street at this time was not the upscale destination it is now. Wander down Regent Street in the 1800s in search of a special blend of tea or an overpriced pair of flip flops and you’d likely be arrested for prostitution. Yes, things were very different on our high streets in those days. According to the documentary, shopgirls were “often having fainting fits” on the shop floor – perhaps a ploy to get out of having to sleep with the customers upstairs?

Regent Street in the 1800s

Years ago I worked on the shop floor of a department store. Whenever I got achy legs I went and put my feet up in the fitting room with the curtain pulled across. Well, standing around doing nothing can be really tiring and there are only so many surfaces you can polish and piles of knitwear you can refold. It wasn’t exactly busy so I got away with it. These days, the beautiful teenaged hot-panted staff at Hollister have folding and making piles down to a fine art so that you almost feel obliged to mess up the piles in case you put someone out of a job. Mostly though in this country it is a surprising and uplifting thing if the service you receive in a shop is friendly, polite and helpful. I have worked as a mystery shopper for over ten years and have reported on hundreds of establishments all over London from Bond Street to Clapham Junction and I can honestly say the times I have considered the assistant to have (to quote the questionnaire) “gone the extra mile” is below twenty. On those rare visits where I have felt welcomed, valued and encouraged to spend dangerously, I’ve found myself worrying that I’ve been rumbled as the undercover shopper because I doubted if any British person was really that fabulous in their shop role. How depressing is that? At least I’ve never been offered a fumble upstairs by anyone behind the counter – that would be an upsell too far, although certainly “beyond my expectations”. I have however been informed whilst on an assignment that I would need to come back in half an hour as the person on duty needed “to go toilet”. And my sister Hannah, who accompanied me on a Covent Garden restaurant assignment expecting a free meal, got far more when the manager tried it on with her in the corridor on her way to the loo.

shops5

 

Those companies where there is an ongoing focus on customer service, stand head and shoulders above the rest and although you might expect this to be the more exclusive brands, it isn’t always the case. You can rely on a Jimmy Choo assistant to be smart, polite and knowledgeable but then I’ve experienced complete disinterest in Louis Vuitton. In Asda when I asked where I might find peaches, the response was “What are they then?” – twice. Meanwhile at Nando’s, across the board, nothing is too much trouble. Now shoes I can understand being passionate about, but chicken?

 

 

 

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Now is the Summer of Our Discounted Trends

The good news apparently is that sales of football shirts and sporting goods rose so much last month that the high street almost looked like it had a good month. If you’re not the sort of person who longs for wall to wall football on their television after a hard day at work, then this fact will be both bizarre and irrelevant to you. I however have contributed to this in my own small way as I purchased my three year old son an England top to wear to “Brazil World Cup Day” at his nursery. Actually, scrub that, his godfather bought it for him and it cost all of £3.50 from Sainsbury’s so I doubt I revived the economy single-handedly. As for me, I invested (again, invested probably too strong a word at £4 from Asda) in an England t-shirt in 2010 when I was seven months pregnant so I have one to wear if I really must even if it is several sizes too big and stretched out of shape in the stomach and boob area. My son is fascinated by the idea that last time I wore it he was inside it too but is quick to point out that he couldn’t actually see the matches “because of all the blood and food going past”.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned the good news is in fact that the bad high street sales (blame the erratic weather and shoppers preferring to shop online) means the summer sales have started even earlier than usual! And our summer is only just beginning!! And it’s nearly pay day!!! And there’s so much great stuff!!!! And… well you get the message. I know that sensible Vogue types will tell you to buy classic and to go for pieces that will see you effortlessly into autumn but come on, it’s June for gawd’s sake, we could have three whole months left of warm weather (we might also have three months of rain and gloom but let’s think positive, we’re England supporters after all*) so put on your flat shoes, an easily removed dress and a good bra and get out to those sales. Here’s what I think are the pick of this season’s looks from all the best trends for Summer 2014.

1. Cut-out fabrics

I LOVE this look; it’s flattering, feminine and subtly sexy. It’s the prosecco of fashion. The perfect date-wear!

Banana Republic Dress reduced to £52.99 from £85

Banana Republic Dress reduced to £52.99 from £85

2. Sports Luxe

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; this is the way to do androgynous eighties ‘chic’ without being either of those things. Think Olivia Newton John and avoid head to toe nylon (no-one likes a walking flammable time bomb) and work it.

Sporty Top from Banana Republic reduced to £14.99 from £20

Sporty Top from Banana Republic reduced to £14.99 from £20

3. Prints

They’re scary I know but prints don’t seem to be going anywhere so a summer dress is simplest as you’ll only have to think about shoes.

Print dress from Reiss £89 reduced from £179

Print dress from Reiss £89 reduced from £179

4.Monochrome

Black is not my colour but I’ll make an exception for my feet. I’m a bit bored of the predictable sixties take on this trend so opt for accessories instead, that way they’ll go with anything and (yawn) see you into the autumn too.

Kurt Geiger shoes £49 reduced from £85

Kurt Geiger shoes £49 reduced from £85

5. Lace

You’re bound to have a wedding to go to this summer and lace – as long as it isn’t white or ivory – is ideal. Also it can be dressed up or down and dark colours can be taken through into autumn (Aaagghh… I just can’t help myself…)

Whistles dress £95 reduced from ££175

Whistles dress £95 reduced from ££175

6. The midi skirt

This season, after a false start last year, the midi skirt has really come into its own and has proved an invaluable part of the spring wardrobe in this unpredictable climate of ours. Wear it without tights without looking daft if it rains and wear it with a t-shirt and flats for day and an embellished top and heels for evening. Job done. I’m converted and now have three.

Midi skirt by Dorothy Perkins £15 reduced from £28

Midi skirt by Dorothy Perkins £15 reduced from £28

7. Grown up bags

I’m not a bag person but this season the high street has been full of bags that look far more expensive than they are. A white bag isn’t exactly practical but if it looks like a Dolce and Gabbana and is half price in the sale, it would be daft not to. Just don’t put it anywhere near chocolate or a toddler.

Whistles leather bag £145 reduced from £295

Whistles leather bag £145 reduced from £295

If like me you’re running out of wardrobe space, then justify your spree by clearing out some stuff that no longer makes the grade and hand it in to an H&M near you where in return you’ll receive a £5 off voucher for your next visit – hooraay! Also, keep your ear to the ground for new marketplace Raise.com which has just launched in the States. At Raise you can buy discounted gift cards for all the big brands and then sell on any unused cards for cash. Waste not, want not as my Granny would say – let’s hope Raise finds its way to our shores soon. In the meantime, I’m rearranging my wardrobe and ahem, clearing some space for my new purchases in my son’s cupboard…

*At time of going to press, England had lost to Uruguay and are almost certainly coming home… Come on Andy!

www.reiss.co.uk

www.whistles.co.uk

www.dorothyperkins.co.uk

www.kurtgeiger.com

www.bananarepublic.gap.co.uk

 

 

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Spend it Like Beckham: Posh with a hint of Spice

I am reading Fashion Babylon at the moment. It is a compulsive read largely because it is packed with industry gossip. No-one worth their Manolos is spared in this story of a London designer trying to hit the big time. From Kate Moss to Anna Wintour, the secrets as revealed to author Imogen Edwards-Jones by various ‘anonymous’ insiders, are occasionally seedy, always fascinating. It certainly takes the gloss off a business which relies heavily on appearing glossy. If you thought the life of a model was all freebies and dates with Leonardo di Caprio and Prince Harry, you’ll find this account very disappointing. Interestingly and thanks to the eight years that have passed since Fashion Babylon was published, the one celebrity whose public profile has risen beyond all recognition is Victoria Beckham. In 2006 VB was little more than a former pop star, a footballer’s wife and someone with very fake looking boobs which she wore up around her neck – this being pre-statement necklaces obviously. She wore designer clothes and hair extensions and hid away whenever pregnant so that her Pouting Lollipop public persona was carefully preserved. Accordingly, all mentions of her in the book reference her lack of style and the very long barge-pole with which no designer would touch her. She’s not quite hung out to dry with Coleen Rooney and Danniella Westbrook but she’s only one Burberry accessory away from the clothes line.

VB wearing VB

VB wearing VB

I must admit I’d kind of forgotten quite how naff Mrs Beckham aka Posh Spice had been back in the day, perhaps because I was quite fond of the Spice Girls and have always had an affinity with fashion victims who fail to see when they have stepped over the line from trendy to utterly ridiculous and/or inappropriate. It’s not as if she ever even had her ‘own’ high street collection like Coleen or Rhianna. No doubt about it, Victoria Beckham went from Fashion Roadkill with a nose ring and a pirate headscarf to Fashion Doyenne with her own catwalk show at New York Fashion Week (admittedly via the LA Galaxy pitch in a pink Roland Mouret dress, heels and a bleached ‘pob’) in less than five years and that, is extremely impressive.

Victoria Beckham Spring Summer 2014

Victoria Beckham Spring Summer 2014

& Other Stories £46

& Other Stories £46

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Beckham was the one who couldn’t sing in The Spice Girls. Now she is winning awards for her collections, dressing the likes of Cameron Diaz and being interviewed by British Vogue’s editor Alexandra Schulman. This is not someone to underestimate. Sure, the rumours abound about how much of the designing VB actually does – her Battersea office is close to where I work and recently I bumped into a former colleague who now supplies fabrics and meets with her ‘team’ regularly. When I innocently asked if Victoria chose all the fabrics herself he guffawed and told me not to be ridiculous, he’d never met her, why would she be there? He raised his eyebrows at me as if I’d asked if David Beckham made the tea and sewed on the buttons.

Victoria by Victoria Beckham Spring Summer 2014

Victoria by Victoria Beckham Spring Summer 2014

& Other Stories dress £65

& Other Stories dress £65

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know how dirty Victoria gets her hands in the process of producing her fashion lines but she models them well. She is regularly pictured coming out of hotels in her own pieces and women far more clothes savvy for way longer than VB pay a vast amount of money to dress the same way.

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& Other Stories dress reduced to £20

Victoria by Victoria Beckham Spring Summer 2014

Victoria by Victoria Beckham Spring Summer 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not here to slate the woman; I covet her dresses every season and wore a pair of DVB jeans (highly flattering and leg lengthening) ’til they died a denimy death so I’m not really bothered if she is merely the face behind the brand. After all we buy into her husband advertising H&M pants which he almost certainly doesn’t design or even wear himself so why not let Posh Spice dictate our wardrobes. The price tags of the clothes are prohibitively expensive which naturally maintains exclusivity but take a closer look at what the high street is putting out there and you may detect a hint of Spice. It’s clearly what we really really want.*

* Sorry, couldn’t resist, it had to be done.

 

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“Right here’s where you start paying… In Sweatshirts”*

Last week I talked about leggings and cropped tops and the things to avoid in order to present the best version of yourself. This week, thanks to school friend Sophie and her ’80s themed birthday party, I’m having to think about those things again. Last week, Sophie very kindly came up with an argument for me investing in a cropped top this season – she was the only one – so I feel it’s only fair to make an effort when for one night only she insists we leave our most stylish selves at home in order to celebrate her birthday as if it was 1986.

The Real 1980's

The Real 1980s

I approached the subject with caution when letting the boyfriend know we were expected to show up in costume. He anticipated what I was going to say by my distressed expression and said, “I’m not coming if it’s themed”. This didn’t help my dilemma which was that frankly I don’t get out enough these days to spend one of my precious Saturday evenings looking daft. I thought of a handful of ’80s ladies from whom I could take inspiration – a young Debbie Harry, a young Madonna, a young Lady Di (oh god was I young enough?) when the boyfriend suddenly produced a shiny looking tracksuit top which he slipped on informing me, “It’s Dior, Dior sportswear!” I have no idea where this appeared from but all of a sudden the costumes were taken to a different level. I stopped considering pie-crust collars and started thinking Legs & Co.**

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The 80s revisited – Pucci Spring Summer 2014

Although the modern miracle that is Lycra was invented way back in 1959, it wasn’t until the 1980s, the decade of the leotard and Calvin Klein branded underwear, that the stretchy stuff really came into its own. Gyms and health clubs were taking off in a big way, Jane Fonda was producing fitness videos and disco fever was going mainstream. Suddenly, sportswear and more specifically, slouchy colourful looking layers of Lycra had migrated from the aerobics class to the street with head bands, leg warmers, trainers and footless tights (reborn as leggings) becoming de rigeur. Films such as Staying Alive and Flashdance and the series Kids from Fame sealed the deal. Anybody who was anybody had a wide necked t-shirt revealing one shoulder and a hint of leotard strap accessorised with bangles and a pair of LA Gear pump-up trainers. And then Donna Karan spotted the obvious problem with wearing a leotard under all those layers and invented ‘The Body’. Girls rushed out to buy one in every colour and debated whether you should wear knickers underneath them or not while teenage boys (and presumably their more grown up counterparts) struggled with this new piece of female attire on every level. I suspect the modern man in 2014 would find it just as problematic. And they thought bra fastenings were fiddly…

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Sports Luxe at Jeremy Scott Spring Summer 2014

They say that fashion trends return every twenty years and so we certainly shouldn’t be surprised that the ’80s look is back. In fact its influence has been worryingly strong for several seasons now. Last year it was the bright and fluorescent colours that so few of us look good in, this year it’s the Sports Luxe vibe. This look is thankfully easier to do, is all about layering which lends itself beautifully to our erratic weather here in the UK and (whisper it) it’s comfortable too. What’s not to like? I’ve picked out the most wearable pieces available in the shops at the moment:

sportzara2599

Zara sweatshirt dress £25.99

sportwarehouse65

Warehouse dress £65

 

 

 

 

 

 

meshnext24

Next mesh top £24

nextkaftan30

Next mesh kaftan £30

 

sportwhistles295

Whistles rucksack £295

shortsRI30

River Island metallic shorts £30

I’m starting to actually look forward to getting dressed up on Saturday evening now. And I’m thinking that I won’t have to do anything with my hair as it naturally looks frizzy and awful if I leave it to its own devices. Also, when we crash out fully clothed after too many Pina Coladas, we’ll wake up in the perfect lounging around Sunday clobber. Yes, I think leisurewear might just be where it’s at.

*Taken from Kids From Fame opening sequence quote: “You want fame? Well fame costs, and right here’s where you start paying… in sweat!”

**For overseas readers, Legs & Co. were a female dance troupe on chart show Top of the Pops in the 1980s.

 

 

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My (Not Quite) Definitive Top Ten Dressing Tips

I like a top ten list, me. Whether it be the best places to visit in a foreign city, must-see films or the most fabulous mascaras, I’m not fussy. You may also have noticed that I’m quite fond of compiling them too. Well, far easier to write the tips than follow them. Getting dressed successfully and having the perfect wardrobe is hard and it is a work in progress. Especially if like me, you live in a city where the weather can change seasons in 24 hours, the pace of life is frenetic and updating your wardrobe is not (or shouldn’t be) your primary concern.

However, there are some things that - like the Eiffel Tower and The Empire State – are a given; universal fashion truths that you simply can’t ignore. You could visit Paris and ignore the Eiffel Tower but that would be daft and frankly a waste of your Eurostar ticket. Also, you’ll end up having to revisit which may be a great excuse but is ultimately costly.

Here’s yet another ‘definitive’ top ten list (it may be worth bearing in mind, fyi, that I visited Milan several times before actually going to see ‘The Last Supper’ and I’ve never seen the film Lawrence of Arabia):

  1. No-one looks good in every single trend, it’s impossible. Your chances are certainly improved if you’re tall, skinny and flat of chest but there are styles even Kate Moss’s body doesn’t lend itself to; lingerie style hardly there slip dress – tick. Boned, va va voom corset dress – not so much.

  2. The way you dress gives clues as to who you are. If you so desire, your appearance can speak volumes before you’ve even opened your mouth – obviously in some situations, such as your wedding day or a job interview, this is ideal. That’s why copying someone else’s style verbatim or simply dressing head to toe in a catwalk look (oh yes, because that’s affordable) rarely works. Be inspired and then put your own spin on it. My godmother’s brother auditioned an unknown actress by the name of Michelle Pfeiffer for the lead role in Grease 2. She arrived in green boots. It seems to be the one thing he remembers about the audition, make of that what you will.
  3. There will always be colours that provoke a reaction – those that make your eyes pop and your skin glow and even make you look thinner. This is rarely black or white. Everyone can wear a red, it just depends what shade of red and if it’s the wrong one it’ll make you feel horribly self-conscious. I suspect this is why people say “I can’t wear red”. You can! Find out if a cool red or a warm red is best for you and give it a go.
Orangey red dress £85 at Banana Republic

Orangey red dress £85 at Banana Republic

Bluey red dress £69.50 at Banana Republic

Bluey red dress £69.50 at Banana Republic

4. The Jumpsuit, like skinny jeans and statement jewellery, is becoming a modern classic. I bought my first one from Oasis over four years ago and now have four more. I love them and they are the most comfortable items in my wardrobe. I draw the line at wearing them in the winter because of the obvious and unavoidable drawback of having to remove the whole thing when nature calls. However they are the perfect alternative to the summer dress if you haven’t got tanned and/or shaved legs and actually can be incredibly flattering and elegant. Check them out – go for a narrower leg if you’re shorter and a strapless style if you’re a smaller on top. Exercise caution with high street versions in patterned fabrics to avoid bumping into your jumpsuit twin and looking like backing dancers.

Jumpsuit from Next £28

Jumpsuit from Next £28

5. Flat shoes make you look shorter, no-one would argue that. Then by the same token please believe me when I say they make legs look thicker, without exception. Ankle straps create a similar illusion. The only jean that can be worn with a flat shoe is a skinny style. That may sound annoying but it’s just the way it is.

& Other Stories dress £55 - perfect for a less curvy lady

& Other Stories dress £55 – perfect for a less curvy lady

6. Leggings worn as actual trousers or without a long top covering your bottom was never allowed no matter how amazing your physique. No. Just No.

7. Flesh coloured underwear is ugly, old-fashioned and a turn-off. It is also a vital part of your wardrobe. There are very few summer outfits that won’t be enhanced by it. Don’t even think about wearing a sheer or pale coloured fabric with white underwear because it will show. It’s not up for debate.

& Other Stories dress £45 - ideal for hourglass shapes

& Other Stories dress £45 – ideal for hourglass shapes

8. Money doesn’t always buy quality. I have a D&G dress which almost immediately came apart at the seams and a pair of Loewe stilettos with one heel that became wobbly after two wears. At the same time I have an H&M stretch dress that I have had for twenty years and has seen not only me but my sister and friend Clare through our pregnancies. It cost under a tenner. Now that is quality.

9. Black shoes and boots are not always the answer. Black knee-length boots with bare legs in summer – why would you? And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen a perfectly lovely outfit worn to a wedding accessorised with black shoes. It looks like you’ve forgotten to change out of your regulation school shoes. Don’t do it.

10. We all make mistakes but hopefully we learn from them. I still hanker after trends that really should have an age restriction on them. Just as a Quentin Tarantino film is probably not going to be suitable for young children, Crocs are not something that adults should wear anywhere other than a beach (and I’m only mentioning the beach because I know some quite sane fully grown people who own a pair and I’m wanting to give them an out). That said, I have been hankering after a cropped top and matching skirt combo since they first appeared last year. I have so far resisted because I know it is wrong – I am sadly too old – but if I thought nobody would judge me and I could definitely sit down without getting visible rolls, then I bet I would. I’ve relented and let myself have a pair of camouflage trousers, but even those I bought (a size too big), in Pisa while there was no-one looking and my son was asleep in his pram. When I wore them to pick him up from nursery, his friend Archie helpfully pointed out that “insects can’t see you now you know”. Bonus.

Cropped top £19.99 at H&M

Cropped top £19.99 at H&M

Feel free to disagree but I’m not budging on these, mostly because I’ve learnt the hard way, through hideous trial and error and I’d like to think those Pucci-esque leggings I wore when hovering around the (wrong side) of the ten stone mark were not in vain.

I could perhaps overlook no.10 and replace it with a rant about shiny tights and nude patent shoes if someone can give me a really airtight excuse for buying a cropped top?

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When is a Holdall not a Holdall?

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. The initial excitement at the suggestion of a mini break for two, sans kids, is still very much there now it’s all booked and we’re about to go. From the outset it had all the right ingredients for a romantic getaway; private villa with pool, dates during term time, cheap short haul flights. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been away as part of a couple and once the all important issue of childcare was arranged (thanks Mum) I immediately started to look forward to the quality time away with my man.

nextbralet20

Next bralet £20

And then it happened. Logistics had come up in conversation and the dreaded statement that no self-respecting woman with eyes bigger than her wardrobe wants to hear:

Hand Luggage Only.

I know.

Apparently, time was of the essence, we had a hire car to pick up and it was only four nights after all so naturally we didn’t need to put anything in the hold. I laughed. He must be joking, he knew full well that I would have far too much stuff to be housed in a mere holdall. His expression didn’t change. He reiterated that we were only going for three full days and a large portion of those days would be spent in swimwear so a holdall was perfectly adequate. I laughed again, added a “Yeah right!!” and pointed out that three days meant six outfits – three for day and three for evening – and therefore at least two pairs of shoes not counting the ones I would wear on the ‘plane. He then ran through what he would be packing. I couldn’t possibly detail what this included as I wasn’t listening due to it having absolutely no relevance to me. I made some wise crack about having to wear half of my outfits onto the plane (although there is no way to wear more than one pair of shoes – I’ve tried) but still his expression didn’t alter. He wasn’t bloody joking after all.

zara3999

Zara sandals £39.99

I briefly wondered if this relationship was going to work out. However, since this particular man is as particular about his clothes as I am, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt; his manly practical side had got the better of him.

In short, tomorrow we will be flying to Spain, Hand Luggage Only.

Now, obviously we haven’t left yet and I haven’t even started to pack but I have been on the Easyjet website to see if by any chance they have increased their cabin bag allowance to something akin to the size of a trunk. They haven’t. I have also considered buying up the entire Basics lycra range at H&M in one colour so everything will match, can be rolled up and will arrive crease free. Oh yes, there’s been a lot of procrastinating and one minor setback when I discovered the one dress I’d definitely take with me had enjoyed itself so much on holiday with my sister in Abu Dhabi that it decided to stay there after she left.*

Well tonight, let me assure you, there’s going to be action. Here is my plan of attack:

1. First and foremost, check the dimensions of holdall. Easyjet specify 50x40x20cms. Easyjet is clearly run by men.

2. Pick out three shortish dresses in similar colours for evening and take neutral strappy heels that will go with all three. My mum always tells me not to waste space taking heels on a beachy holiday as “it’s all very casual in that kind of place” but that’s a massive assumption and would make me very uneasy. Never travel without at least one pair of heels.

zara2999

Zara heels £29.99 – these will go with anything

3. Decant shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser and night cream into small 100ml plastic containers. Or even better, use up the many free sachets torn from magazines over the years, now that really is a space saver. We’ve already agreed he’ll take the toothpaste. Sun cream is a duty free purchase.

4. Choose three t-shirts/vests and three pairs of shorts/skirts in the same colour pallet as the dresses – if you know which ‘season’ you are this is a huge help with packing as all pieces will complement each other. Remove your least favourites. You never need as many boring tops and bottoms as you think you do.

5. My gradual tanner isn’t working fast enough and after two weeks of daily application my skin still has a blue-ish tinge with the exception of the tops of my shoulders which friend Erica let me burn in a pub garden last weekend. Apply generous amount of Fake Bake to legs and hope for best as it develops during work shift before flight. At least legs will be hidden under desk.

You gotta roll with it

You gotta roll with it…

6. Flip-flops or gladiators take up minimal space and go with almost anything on a sun holiday. With the heels and the pair you’re wearing you have a choice of three pairs for three days. Add underwear and a couple of bikinis and you’re done.

It’s actually not that difficult if you have the time to focus on it. If everything you pack can be mixed and matched then you’re onto a winner. And the bonus is you’re unlikely to lose your bag if it’s in the cabin with you. Unlike my poor friend Marisa who arrived in the Caribbean about to turn 40, in the early stages of pregnancy, with a toddler in tow but none of her clothes. She spent the first week wearing her dad’s stuff. No, I’m thinking hand luggage is the way to go… but if you see someone rushing through Gatwick North wearing three pairs of shoes, that’ll be me.

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Oasis dress £48 – Not THE green dress but still lovely

*The favourite green dress made it back in time and is very excited to be jetting straight off again.  

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