The Old School Run

I’ve lost a lot of sleep over the last couple of weeks and to add insult to injury it turns out I’ve been lying there worrying about the wrong things. There I was mentally making lists of things to do and the logistics still to be worked out before my son started school for the first time, when all the while there was a far more pressing issue that apparently 64% of women in the UK had resolved weeks ago. Yes, while I was fretting about whether the school breakfast club started early enough for me to get to work on time and whether my only just 4 year old son would fall asleep over his lunch, according to the Daily Mail the majority of school run mums had planned first day outfits, bought new coats and booked in for hair cuts. FOR THEMSELVES.

Elle Sport top £34 and bottoms £38 at Next

I live in the area in South West London known as ‘Nappy Valley’ or ‘Between the Commons’ where if you don’t have a loft conversion and twins you are in the minority, so I’m aware there are many blogs devoted to the fashions and politics of the school gate. However as until now I have only had a pre-schooler, I have never read one of these blogs. Once, as a green around the gills new blogger I posted this blog address on a Mumsnet thread only to be shot down in flames and then removed entirely. I’m still terrified of Mumsnet and doubt I’ll ever go anywhere near its pages again. I worried the school gate would be something of a Mumsnet franchise, drop-off time merely a pre-cursor to coffee and conflab in one of the many cafes nearby. However my concern was for my son and I making friends, not whether or not we would pass muster on the fashion front.

nikenext28

Nike running tights £28 at Next

So it was with some trepidation that we walked the short distance to school on Monday morning. The sun was shining brightly and so the last minute panic that my son (who has grown alarmingly over the summer and is attending a school without uniform) would have to wear trousers hovering around his ankles – quelle horreur – was unnecessary. Of course I wanted him to look clean and cared for because I’m fairly responsible but recalling the head teacher’s request not to send the cherubs into reception class in their best clothes only for them to get spoiled, he was less Romeo Beckham, more Shiloh Pitt. Off we set; Daddy smart casual as he was going on to a casting afterwards and me in Miss Selfridge skinnies, Oasis t-shirt and my lovely new Reiss heels which happened to be the shoes by the front door (honestly they were) and anyway having taken the day off work I was coming straight home to have a weep and to clean the bathroom.

SB926_Black(2)

Sweaty Betty shorts £45

The first thing I noticed was that a good handful of the mums were in gym gear. And not just any gym gear – everything matched, these women looked good. If they had make-up on then it was expertly applied to look au naturel because I couldn’t tell and I’m pretty good at doing the ‘full face of slap/no make-up’ look. (I am after all the person who got out of bed first thing in the morning after a C-section to apply mascara and Touche Eclat before my new baby’s dad arrived). Four days into the school term and I realise the mums must be in the gym straight after the school run most days. Their buttocks are testament to this. On Wednesday I decided to go for a run around the common myself after saying goodbye to my little one. I managed to find two pieces of lycra that were the same colour (sale rail Sweaty Betty top and long Pineapple leggings from the ’90s – you think I’m joking, I’m not – my legs needed waxing) and pulled back my dirty hair into a ponytail. All of a sudden I looked the part! I was one of them! Except I wasn’t really because I don’t know anyone to shout, “Darling, how ARE you, how was Biarritz?” to across the playground and I have neither a deep tan nor a newborn in a pram. On the way back from my run, I suddenly understood why so many coffee bars manage to survive in one small stretch of road – at 10am on a weekday they are full to bursting with mums chewing the cud after offloading at the three or four primary schools within walking distance. I found myself wondering (with a dollop of judgement) if anyone around here had a job. Which was unfair because I have a job and yet there I was merrily running around town without a care in the world, I simply hadn’t been invited to have coffee.

Sweaty Betty top £85

Sweaty Betty top £85

Anyway I don’t want to launch into a tirade about the parents at my son’s school when I don’t know anything about them and they may be my best friends by Christmas. But it will be interesting to see how the outfits change as the nights draw in and the temperature drops. If the Daily Mail article is anything to go by, over half of them have a new pair of boots, a coat and a new bit of make-up waiting to be shown off; this rather lovely Indian summer put a spanner in the works in one respect but in another offered an opportunity to show off the expensive tan.

It’s back to my usual working hours next week when my son starts full days so I will probably be in my work clothes when I collect him in the afternoon. I always dress smartly for work so that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about. As for the upkeep of highlights, tan and glutes, well I couldn’t be better placed, surrounded as I am by hair salons, beauty parlours and chi-chi gyms. And if the pressure all gets too much then I shall simply buy myself five fabulous workout outfits and keep them for wearing on the school run. No-one will ever know I’m going straight home to change and eat pastries.

My new Reiss shoes - well you wouldn't you?

My new Reiss shoes – well you would, wouldn’t you?

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Put Your Neck on the Line

I’ve got a thing about necklines. It’s a relatively new obsession which peeked when I trained as a stylist. As a teenager I had a thing about my bottom and shopped for it over and above any other part of my body. Now, I’m too busy to worry about those parts of my anatomy I can’t see (which is why I’ll never regret my tattoo) and so my focus is on the top half – the frontage rather than the erm, backage.

I used to be more fleshy than I am now and being a student then the answer was to swamp myself in baggy clothes that started near my chin and ended at the knees. I didn’t mind my calves and so perhaps that’s why I developed a love affair with footwear; by way of drawing attention to the bottom third of my body. Anyway, feeling confident one day in my early twenties (having just arrived back from a filming job in the Caribbean where I met the man who would some 14 years later become the father of my child, but that’s a whole other story) I bought myself a new outfit in H&M. I’d dieted madly before the shoot and so I was maybe half a stone lighter and instead of my usual cover-up attire, I bought tight black pinstripe trousers and a scoop neck top in light jersey. This became known as my ‘Pulling Top’ and not for the reasons you might think – I was actually in a long term relationship. This £14.99 piece that you wouldn’t look twice at on the hanger, got me serious attention. I held onto it for many years and I slowly realised, as I tried to emulate its effect with other similar styles, that it was by far the best neckline for my curvy shape. It flattered me and that made me feel good which in turn made me walk taller. Although I didn’t have huge amounts of confidence, wearing this top I could fake it. It probably wasn’t coincidence that I won more roles around this time too.

So it made me feel very sad when I saw Kim Kardashian wearing a wedding dress which was possibly the worst possible style for her well documented figure. Admittedly Kim has had wedding dresses before so perhaps her remit was to go for the complete opposite of what she’d chosen before. However, the previous dress worked beautifully (I’ve looked it up and it was strapless) whereas this one did not. She obviously wanted to detract from her bosom but in the process she only drew more attention to it.

Kim's too high necked wedding gown

Kim’s too high necked wedding gown

The rule is: Boobs need air! Or as my styling mentors put it “let them breathe!”

That’s not to say, have them out on show – I’m so not a fan of that – but if you have a decent rack on you then don’t stuff it into a polo neck or a crew neck. Always go for a scoop or V-neck and you’ll avoid the balloon smuggling silhouette which Kim seems to favour.

Soo much better!

Soo much better!

Don’t worry, there’s a rule for the small chested too…

While it’s true that a straight up and down body tends to be a better clothes horse, a bony chest is often not a very attractive look. Flatter chests can wear all kinds of interesting (and fussy if you fancy) necklines that booby types really can’t; boat necks, halter necks, one shoulder, ruffles, bows, these are all the flat chested girls’ friends. Not so the corset top or the sweetheart neckline.

Lily Allen looking great in sequins AND a polo neck - busty types BEWARE!

Lily Allen looking great in sequins AND a polo neck – busty types BEWARE!

Lara Flynn Boyle not filling her dress

Lara Flynn Boyle not filling her dress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course necklines are dependent on fashions and some seasons it can be trickier than others to find what you need. For the last two years dresses have been quite classic in style meaning a more open shape is harder to come by. For the forthcoming season the sixties look is in again so polo necks and shift dresses are in abundance. But persevere because other styles are out there – try H&M, Oasis, Hobbs and Karen Millen for cuts that flatter curves. Other Stories, Cos, Whistles and Zara are better for the straighter figure.

Go on, stick your neckline out. And don’t forget, whether you’re working at a desk, eating at a dinner table or driving your car, pretty much the only thing people will see is your chest – work it!

Best for a more boyish physique £19.99 at H&M

Best for a more boyish physique £19.99 at H&M

Ideal neckline for curvaceous bodies £7.99 at H&M

Ideal neckline for curvaceous bodies £7.99 at H&M

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A Summer to Remember & the Trends to Forget

I hold my hands up, even I have started to think about winter wardrobes. Well, with what appeared to be the missing rain from the whole of the last two months falling on one bank holiday Monday, it’s hard not to yearn for scarves and cardigans. This is not good news. We’re still in August for goodness sake and apart from anything else all my warmer clothes and shoes are stored at my mum’s and getting it back requires planning. I’m simply not ready to wave goodbye to the summer yet, it’s been such a good one and having just returned from a holiday in Spain, I don’t want to hide away my limbs when for once they are naturally bronzed. Besides, I have it on good authority that the warm weather will be back so reaching for the tights would be premature at this point (although I have to say I’ve been amazed by the number of London girls who never shed them in the first place, despite the prolonged heatwave).

So, I’m using this temporary blip in the August weather to do an edit of the summer trends. Which is another way of saying, with the benefit of hindsight, certain looks don’t work as well as they might have on the catwalk. There are plenty that have epitomised this fabulous summer we’ve had – full midi skirts with cropped tops, 50s starlet playsuits with platform sandals and sheer and eyelet panels on anything and everything – and these will undoubtedly filter through to the next season. But for every elegant lace dress there’s a pair of denim cut-offs with an inner pocket hanging below the hem and a muffin top hanging over it.

Here’s what I’m relegating to the historical clearance rail with the hope that if such trends should ever appear again I will be way too old to care.

1. If supermodel Natalia Vodianova can’t pull off this look then no-one can. There is nothing that works about this dress – the shape swamps her tiny frame, it’s too long, the fabric is heavy and middle-aged and it looks like she is wearing it back to front. Dolce and Gabbana (whom I love by the way) have continued this theme into Autumn 2014 but please don’t be tempted – you’ll end up looking like a ‘Where are They Now?’ picture of Heidi.

The 'Folksy' look

The ‘Folksy’ look

2. I was never going to buy into the footwear trend that is ‘the slide’ because to be frank, they look like part of a lifeguard’s uniform and the only way that is acceptable is if you are Pamela Anderson in the infamous red swimsuit. And only then on a beach. This item does not translate to London living, or any city for that matter. If you bought a pair then at least you can console yourself by using them as gardening shoes – my friend’s husband gave her a pair of genuine gardening shoes so hideous (think Crocs with the holes filled in) they make slides look like Cinderella slippers.

The Slide - these are actually a decent pair

The Slide – these are actually a decent pair

3. Clashing prints should be approached with caution and I’m beginning to think it simply shouldn’t be tried at home without professional supervision. J.Crew make it look easy (at a price) and some sylph-like celebrities and small children can make a stripe and a floral worn alongside each other look whimsical and charming – larger non-celebrities without the benefit of an expensive blow dry and a famous other half tend to look as if they got dressed in the dark. In a charity shop. In deepest Scandinavia. Just don’t.

Clashing prints - aaagghh!

Clashing prints – aaagghh!

4. Aqualandia in Benidorm is not the most stylish of places and only a fool would go expecting to see bodies clad artfully in designer swimwear when those bodies are there to be thrown down vertical drops and stuffed with rubbery crepes and ice-cream (not necessarily in that order). However, Pocahontas style bikinis? On a female older than six? No, I’m sorry, it’s not right – tassles hanging from an unsupported bust look wholly unflattering and remind me of those plastic strip curtains people had in the 70s.

Primark bikini

Primark bikini

5. I live near Clapham Common so I see a lot of festival revellers in the summer and festival revellers = Underbum. It would be alright if the miniscule shorts were confined to the skinny teenagers on the common but this summer the hottest of pants have been on every bottom of all ages, shapes and sizes and all over town. And they really shouldn’t be. Perhaps the sooner it’s tights season again, the better.

The End.

The End.

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How the Boiler Suit Became Jumped Up

My mum had a burgundy zip up jumpsuit in the 1980s. She wore it with calf length boots and a bubble perm and I thought she was the coolest thing on two legs. In those days jumpsuits were very zippy – main zip up the front (so much easier than at the side or the back when you need the loo), zips across each thigh and occasionally the odd zip on a sleeve or an ankle.

Miss Selfridge jumpsuit reduced to £20

Miss Selfridge jumpsuit reduced to £20

Jumpsuits were also elasticated in all sorts of places – at the waist, at the ankle and sometimes even at the wrist. Then of course there was the most obvious difference between those boiler suits they wore then and those we wear now – they were called boiler suits. Not the most alluring label for a supposedly glamorous item of clothing aimed at fashionable young women.

Whistles jumpsuit £225

Whistles jumpsuit £225

The very first incarnation of the all-in-one trouser suit for women was the 1960’s catsuit designed by Courreges. The body stocking, which was lycra enhanced, was its more slutty cousin – the clue is in the name. Next up was the androgynous zippered jumpsuits by Pierre Cardin in his ‘Space Odyssey’ phase. And then finally the boiler suit in the 1980s, all baggy and oversized and “as seen on the million dollar man, which is the only acceptable place for it”, according to my boyfriend proving yet again that sometimes men just don’t get it.

1960s catsuit by Biba

1960s catsuit by Biba

Reiss jumpsuit £245

Reiss jumpsuit £245

Rehashed trends always get re-branded with a new name but the boiler suit looked exactly like the sort of thing you might see on a plumber so it was well named, this century’s version does not. Enter The Jumpsuit. An item of clothing so ubiquitous it now has its own section on most fashion websites. Like the dress, it is subject to trends and so last season’s jumpsuit may not look quite so current as the latest offering. Looking ahead to autumn winter 2014, jumpsuits are smarter, more tailored and slightly more serious. Whereas this summer’s look has been more girly with lots of florals, ruffles and low necklines.

My Oasis playsuit reduced to £35!

My Oasis playsuit reduced to £35!

I have several jumpsuits and just last month took the plunge and graduated (or downgraded?) to my first playsuit. I know, I wasn’t sure either and actually after I bought it in the sale I worried I couldn’t get away with it. But when I showed my boyfriend he thought it was lovely and that when I’d said ‘playsuit’ he’d imagined something far skimpier (imagined? Or hoped for? Yikes, suddenly I’m thinking of those rompersuit things that babies wear) and that this was in fact not obviously a playsuit. So anyway, while that slightly defeats the object, you can happily go arse over tit in a playsuit without showing your knickers. Also, I wouldn’t wear a dress this short but for some reason, like shorts, in a playsuit it’s acceptable. The wind can’t blow a playsuit up in the middle of a busy street either. The benefits are endless. When one day someone comes up with an answer to the loo problem, this will be the perfect garment.

Miss Selfridge playsuit £39

Miss Selfridge playsuit £39

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Risk Assessment for Fashion Victims

A recent piece by US Vogue listing fashion risks you should have taken by the age of 30 caught my eye. At first I felt affronted, why on earth should risks only be taken in your twenties I wondered? I’m not keen on the media telling women over 40 they shouldn’t wear mini skirts, bikinis or their hair long as you know so I’m all for experimentation – within reason of course. However, the points resonated so loudly and painfully I had to have a lie down. Because with the exception of no.8, I have absolutely assessed (to a greater or lesser degree) and then taken all ten fashion risks, the memory of which gives me insight as to why some women now shop solely at Boden for chinos and Breton tops.

Have a look and see what you think, and don’t let no.1 put you off because I am fully aware that only the really hard core fashion victims among us have done this one and if you must know, I for one actually did it post 30. I’ll do it again too. So there.

1. Stepped out in thigh-high boots and a miniskirt at least once.

voguelist1

I have lovely black suede Top Shop thigh high boots. I was nervous about wearing them at first and so I broke them in by wearing them under a midi length dress. This may sound ridiculous and somewhat missing the point but dresses rise and reveal knee when you sit down so there was method to my madness. On collapsing on the sofa in front of my son’s father at the end of the day, he spotted the boots and said, “Ooo look at Mummy’s boots…” in a tone which suggested his next sentence might be “Let’s make Mummy a cup of tea just in case this is the onset of post natal depression”.  Whoever you are and however expensive the boot, a thigh high style will always draw attention to the area of your leg you probably hate the most. People will look. Need I say more?

2. Adapted something from a school girl’s uniform-pleated skirt, Peter Pan collar, or over-the-knee socks for your working wardrobe.

My son starts school this September. His extremely middle class school doesn’t have a uniform. If he at the age of four isn’t going to be wearing a uniform then neither am I. But yes, I still have over the knee socks in my drawer and yes, I have worn them to work. With regards to their appropriateness – see no.1.

3. Exposed a cowboy boot.

Boots £195 from Office

Boots £195 from Office

Exposed a cowboy boot for being what I wondered? The wild west wannabe version of the more cool biker boot? Being responsible for Jason Donovan’s court case with The Face magazine over his alleged homosexuality? I bought my cowboy boots from Faith in 1988 for £40. They were fab, they still are and every time I go to my mum’s house I get them out of the cupboard and give them a little stroke before putting them back.  My rugby playing friend Ian’s two daughters looked so horrified when I told them that daddy also had a pair of cowboy boots in the late 80s that I worry I have damaged their relationship forever. Oh well. 

4. Taken to the streets in a nightgown.

Some night dresses are too good to be worn in bed only. My mum has two Janet Reger silk styles that look like Versace evening gowns. She hasn’t worn them out and neither have I but I have always intended to. On the occasion that I went out in the evening in a nightgown it was a crappy old M&S one. It wasn’t a statement but it was misguided, but that’s what being 17 is all about surely.

 5. Done sequin pants for day.

Sequin shorts £35 from Miss Selfridge

Sequin shorts £35 from Miss Selfridge

OK, here’s the thing; shiny fabrics add pounds and show up lumps and bumps in the worst way possible. A sequin is a mini mirror. Cover your legs in sequins and they will appear to multiply in size by however many sequins make up the ‘pants’. Personally I like the idea of them but try a pair of sequin trousers on and

you very quickly realise not only will you make a crunching sound every time you sit down but having squished and bent sequins on your arse for the rest of the evening is not a good look.

6. Gone goth, punk, or grunge for the night.

Camisole £85 at Whistles

Camisole £85 at Whistles

For the night? Are they kidding? I did grunge for most of my three years at drama school. It did nothing for my figure or my confidence and I ended up briefly with a bloke who dressed the same way – totally not my thing. To do grunge with aplomb you need to be flat chested and to do convincing goth you should be milky of skin and genuinely love The Cure. I probably would have been safer trying punk.

7. Reinvented an oversize men’s blazer as a dress.

I wore my boyfriend’s tuxedo over a pair of fishnet tights one new year’s eve and I have to say it looked smokin’. I’d do it again and would urge others to do the same. It’s so much easier than worrying about cleavage spill and holding your stomach in all night.

8. Blown your tax return on a pair of skinny leather pants and regretted it.

If I’d ever had a tax return big enough to buy a pair of leather jeans I would have regretted it but only because the PVC versions I have from H&M are so damn convincing as the real thing. It’s a crime to spend more than £29.99 on something  which will quite possibly give you Thrush.

9. Worn a “signature” hat.

I have an oddly large head and so buying hats is a nightmare. The last hat I bought was from a menswear department and my boyfriend asked if I was trying to look like Michael Jackson (I wasn’t). I have in the past worn baseball caps, cowboy hats and flat caps. None of them lasted long enough to be called ‘signature’ as they gave me a headache and left a ridge around my forehead. Perhaps that is my signature.

10. Referenced at least two of the following for inspiration: Joan Jett, Jane Birkin, Bianca Jagger, Stevie Nicks, Kurt Cobain, or Anita Pallenberg.

Bianca Jagger - that's the way to do it

Bianca Jagger – that’s the way to do it

Stevie Nicks = grunge so see no.6.

Re: Bianca Jagger – I so don’t want to recount the story of how I bought a white polyester trouser suit to wear to the London offices of Vogue but I can see I am left with no choice. In my 20s I reached the final of the Vogue writing competition. Lunch was hosted by the current editor Alexandra Schulman and various other high profile journalists such as Nigella Lawson and Lisa Armstrong. I thought I looked terrific and oh so Vogue. In fact I looked like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever only with less slinky hips. FYI, those who work at Vogue tend towards a more subtle and grown up look of cashmere and silk rather than fashion victimy high street trends. I didn’t win needless to say. And I have always thought that Carrie Bradshaw’s ‘Drunk at Vogue’ episode had nothing on my ‘Badly Dressed at Vogue’ one.

 

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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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