My Top Ten Shops

In typical London in August style, after days of rain and gloom and wondering if indeed for once the coats and knitwear appearing on the high street may actually prove to be handy, this weekend we had the one-off scorcher. Which is all well and good for a Saturday when you have plans to meet up with old friends for lunch as those plans can quickly be rejigged to include a strappy summer dress, a BBQ and a paddling pool. Isn’t it exactly what you love about this country? For all the moaning about the weather, this sort of positive about turn puts a spring in everyone’s step and an opportunity to show off your holiday tan.

This week I have been writing a feature for London’s Time and Leisure magazine about the clutch of boutiques on the road where I live and so the shopping ban I put on myself after our return from Spain, had to be temporarily lifted. To be clear, I didn’t buy anything, my presence in these shops being of a purely professional nature, but it would have been churlish not to have tried on a little something in each of the seven shops.

So while I’m at it I thought I’d focus on the fabulous shops the British high street has – the best in the world – rather than their current stock which I’m trying to ignore for at least another month. Here are my absolute faves and the reasons why:

H&M – for their exciting designer collaborations, sheer magnitude of stock and the rock bottom prices – it’s always been you H&M. Great stuff for everyone from newborns to grandmothers, I will never not shop here. Not so great: very cheap looking shoes and disinterested staff.

Jumpsuit £29.99 H&M

Jumpsuit £29.99 H&M

& Other Stories – for a beautiful and expensive looking store design, minimal Scandi style, scrumptious body lotion and exclusivity (for now). From the same stable as H&M and Cos, this newish kid on the block hasn’t made it much further than London but it will. Not so great: not much here for curvy figures (other than the aforementioned body lotion.)

Pink leather bag £79 at & Other Stories

Pink leather bag £79 at & Other Stories

Asos – for speed, choice, refunds and user friendly website. As the frontrunner in affordable online style, there is nothing Asos doesn’t know about how to make the whole painful process of delivery and returns as smooth as possible. Also, the amount of stock this site holds is incredible. Not so great: the quality of the ASOS own brand is mostly well dodge.

Lace skirt and top £75 at ASOS

Lace skirt and top £75 at ASOS

TK Maxx – for genuine designer steals, kids’ shoes, cashmere and gifts. I know it takes a brave soul to hack through the rails and rails of rubbish at this horribly unattractive store but oh the treasures you can unearth! Go with a friend with stamina and take a deep breath. Even my son is in Stella McCartney thanks to the ‘Maxx. Not so great: lengthy yawnsome queues at the checkout.

Coach leather shoes reduced to £59.99 at TK Maxx

Coach leather shoes reduced to £59.99 at TK Maxx

Brandalley – for stock turnover, labels, website and a classy edit. Brandalley was my first flash sale site love and my first purchase earned my friend Kerry, who recommended me, a £10 voucher. What’s not to love? I am addicted to checking it daily. Not so great: delivery times can be ridiculously long.

Christian Dior glasses reduced to £115 from £162 at TK Maxx

Christian Dior glasses reduced to £115 from £162 at TK Maxx

Zara – for shoes, jewellery, having loads of fitting rooms and kidswear. Who doesn’t love Zara? There really is something for everyone and even the website is lovely. Deliveries are packaged beautifully totally belying the reasonable price tags. Not so great: lengthy queues at the checkout, don’t even contemplate them during sales.

Earrings £9.99 at Zara

Earrings £9.99 at Zara

Whistles – for jackets, tomboyish cuts and massive reductions at sale times. I have come to Whistles quite late on due to its sophistication that’s way ahead of me. I now walk past my local branch every day, how can I not be on its case? Not so great: for big boobs, the shapes at Whistles tend to be boxy and straight.

Reversible coat £250 at Whistles

Reversible coat £250 at Whistles

Reiss – for shoes, curvy dresses, brilliant sample sales and staff who are genuinely helpful and knowledgeable. Reiss cuts their clothes in a similar fashion to D&G only at a fraction of the price. It isn’t cheap but it’s achingly feminine and good quality. Not so great: consistency of sizes, I have Reiss dresses in three different sizes.

Blouse £145 at Reiss

Blouse £145 at Reiss

Calzedonia – for 3 for 2 on hold ups, beach cover ups and variety. I first discovered this brand in Milan and stocked up whenever I visited. Now it’s all over London and I couldn’t be more pleased. Spread the word. Not so great: Staff are a bit in your face, I was once asked if I needed help three times in five minutes.

Bandeau bikini at Calzedonia

Bandeau bikini at Calzedonia

Finery London – for contemporary pieces you won’t see anywhere else at reasonable prices. Finery isn’t the brand on everyone’s lips but it will be. The website is elegant and not overwhelming and the collections are grown up and yet fun. Amazingly it’s only £5 for next day delivery! Not so great: I haven’t any gripes so far…

Skirt £75 at Finery London

Skirt £75 at Finery London

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Earth to Vanity Fair

There’s always the risk after a lovely two week holiday that unprecedented sun, pina colada and oversized pastries may incur a sense of reality loss. So to return from a fortnight abroad to find that in fact while you’ve had your back turned the rest of the world has gone mad, is something of a relief. I wondered if I had missed a holiday memo when firstly my boyfriend’s brother in law referred to himself as ‘Joe’ during a go-karting session – his name is nothing like Joe – but when my boyfriend announced en route to a romantic dinner a deux, that he had booked under the name ‘Jon’, I started to look around for video cameras. My boyfriend is not called Jon and he is not an undercover spy to my knowledge, so while he seemed utterly bemused by my reaction (I giggled until well into the first course by which time I had hiccoughs), I began to think perhaps there was something in the pool water.

Emma Stone

Emma Stone

On Sunday we were back in London and I set about the dreaded task of checking my ignored emails. While the boyfriend peered over my shoulder and sniggered about the urgency of all those emails promoting – yes, you’ve guessed it – new season coats and boots, I prayed the tiling job, done in a rush before we left,  had held out and there wasn’t a further complaint that the place was now flooded.

The very fabulous Taylor Swift

The very fabulous Taylor Swift

Thankfully, there was no insurance claim awaiting me and there was no other news worse than the vaguely irritating confirmation that even when an automated email is set to inform that you are out of the country with no access to email, there are some who persist in asking if you can be somewhere other than on holiday in Spain in something other than a bikini sometime other than when you are back in the UK. Rant over.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world's most stylish woman.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world’s most stylish woman.

And then I  saw the email from my friend Cesca. Now Cesca is not ordinarily the bearer of news more scandalous than accidentally sending her elder daughter into school in fancy dress on the wrong day, but on this occasion the subject line promised an altogether more controversial content than our usual banter about tan marks and forgotten mascara. ‘Sam Cam Named World’s Most Stylish Woman’ is nothing compared to ‘Zayn Leaves One Direction’ as headlines go but it is intriguing so I investigated further.

Samantha Cameron gets austerity under way.

Samantha Cameron gets austerity under way.

It turned out that according to American magazine Vanity Fair David Cameron’s wife Samantha is indeed the best dressed person is the whole entire universe bar none. Not Olivia Palermo, not Kate Moss and definitely not Kate Middleton. I considered whether ‘best dressed’ and ‘most stylish’ actually meant something different. Best dressed means, I suppose, that you’re dressed in the best whereas stylish means you’ve really got something, something special in the fashion arena. When it comes to Vanity Fair’s verdict, this special something amounts pretty much to A Lot Of Money To Spend On Hiring A Stylist. Real style in my opinion is being a bit clever about how you put your wardrobe together whether you are loaded or not. I don’t object to what Samantha Cameron wears, I just don’t feel inspired or impressed by it. On the day after the election when she appeared dressed in a Preen frock which looked as if it had been splattered with black paint and darned with patches, I went so far as to call my mum to discuss it.

Good grief - The Countess of Wessex

Good grief – The Countess of Wessex

If Samantha Cameron is the most stylish woman in the world then I shouldn’t have been surprised by those who followed, but I was. “The Countess of Wessex??!!” I texted to Cesca. “THE COUNTESS OF WESSEX??” This was such an extraordinary stand to take (who remembered Prince Edward even existed?) I simply had to see what Vanity Fair had said to justify its decision. It turned out Vanity Fair hadn’t justified its decision. Underneath the far more understandable choices of Diane Kruger and Taylor Swift there were a few helpful pieces of information such as their favourite shops and style icons. For Sophie, Countess of Wessex, it stated ‘Husband: Prince Edward’. At that point, I started to feel a bit sorry for her. After all Sophie has certainly raised her game since Kate Middleton married into the firm. It’s a rare royal occasion these days when you don’t see Sophie in Kate’s favourite trusty LK Bennett nude patent heels. I know I go on about them but it’s actually getting rather embarrassing now and I can’t help wondering what Kate thinks of the poor old C.O.W. in her copycat outfits.

Oh this does make me laugh

Oh this does make me laugh

I suspect Vanity Fair had reasons other than mere style credentials for their peculiar list for whilst nobody would disagree that actresses Diane Kruger and Emmas Watson and Stone are anything other than faultless in their style, The Countess of Wessex and Bill Nighy are perhaps more of an acquired taste. The boyfriend (who has reverted back to his actual given first name now we are back in London) suggested Vanity Fair simply named those they want on their front cover in the next year. I’m inclined to think there may be something in that. Although still, the Countess of Wessex?

Diane Kruger

Diane Kruger

Yes it’s fair to say that August’s so-called silly season is alive and well in 2015 and if you were wondering about the pseudonyms utilised on our Spain holiday – the boyfriend used Jon, his middle name, because it is far easier to spell out than his real name. As for his brother in law, well he used ‘Joe’ because his real name means ‘dandruff’ in Spanish. You win some, you lose some, eh Sophie?

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Packing in the Pants

This week, I’ve had packing for holiday on my mind as we’re off to Spain in a few days. Although I’m pretty good at packing, I thought I’d consult Google just to see what the world had to say about it currently; if there was anything new and revolutionary that would mean a) we didn’t have to pay British Airways for the luxury of putting two cases in the hold and b) I don’t have to hide half of my son’s clothes from him so he doesn’t wear them all before we leave.

airport5

I make lists but I’m also a procrastinator so the really important stuff like packing gets shoved to the bottom of the list so I’m up doing it at 2am the morning we leave. Buffing my feet meanwhile gets put at the top because it can be done at the same time as something else, like catching up on Mad Men. This morning the something else turned out to be talking to my boyfriend on the ‘phone. Until that is he asked what I was doing. It’s not that I don’t think our relationship can take that grated off parts of my feet are in another room to my actual feet, rather that deluded or not, I have a fanciful idea that maintaining a little of the romance might be nice only two and a half years in. It’s apparently shocking that I don’t know how to change a tyre so it seems logical to stick with the theme of being a useless but silky smooth female for whom oil under the fingernails is something I’d prefer not to entertain. Anyway the boyfriend had assumed the scraping noise was me buttering myself a piece of toast. Until it was still going on some fifteen minutes later and he realised either this was the world’s largest piece of toast or something else was afoot (ahem).

Airport chic 1950s style - I don't think this would work on Easyjet

Airport chic 1950s style – I don’t think this would work on Easyjet

So there I was googling ‘packing tips’ and one of the first of the results listed was from Skyscanner (reasonably sensible and knowledgeable you’d think)  which begged the question:

“DO YOU REALLY NEED A CLEAN PAIR OF PANTS FOR EACH DAY OF YOUR HOLIDAY?”

Now, call me old fashioned but my answer to this is an emphatic unequivocal well yes, actually I do. It’s not too much to ask is it? And anyway how much space do pants take up in your luggage? Was the Skyscanner tips list written by a four year old I wonder? My own four year old has already suggested that the problem of paying for luggage is not really a problem since he carries his own bag (a monkey on wheels) onto the plane. Being four he thinks his activity book, two packets of raisins and his bunny is all he needs for his holiday. And he may very well be right but it’s not going to cut if for me or my boyfriend who has already piled up five pairs of shoes to take with him and he sees this as perfectly acceptable. Suggesting he only packs half his pants would, I suspect, be met with derision not to mention a nagging doubt that I’m not the hygienic type he had me down as, especially after the foot scraping incident. So my feeling is that culling your underwear is not the answer. I will be packing 12 pairs of knickers and have even bought some new ones because we will be in someone else’s villa and it seems only polite to have nice underwear.

Kate Beckinsale'soufit is perfect flightwear but what will that 'do' look like after a long haul flight?

Kate Beckinsale’s outfit is right up my street but what will that ‘do’ look like after a long haul flight?

As for the clothes, well you will be hard pushed to lure me away from a case full of dresses. They are simply the easiest things as all you have to think about is shoes. I tend to pack a pair of flip flops, a pair of flat pumps and then two pairs of eveningy shoes with heels. I like to have choice and I NEVER listen to my mum when she says “Oh you won’t need heels, don’t bother taking heels”. She has known me a very long time my mum, and yet still she thinks this is handy advice I will listen to. I would say, don’t bother taking jeans on holiday, not even to wear on the ‘plane as they are possibly the hottest, most restrictive item there is. I’m always baffled at why celebrities are pictured doing airport chic in their jeans.

OK, Jennifer Aniston's jeans actually look quite comfy here, full marks to Jen

OK, Jennifer Aniston’s jeans actually look quite comfy here, full marks to Jen

My perfect airport outfit consists of a lightweight dress in a dark fabric that doesn’t crease, shoes I can easily slip off as soon as I sit down and a pashmina that can be used as a pillow or to keep warm when the air conditioning inevitably gets too cold. Most importantly of all, if travelling with children (not just your own but those belonging to your fellow passengers) a wrap or pashmina of some kind is essential for protecting your lap when one of them tips their drink into it. It NEVER doesn’t happen and ALWAYS results in someone (but not the child in question) looking like they have wet themselves as they get off the ‘plane.

Children on planes - this was my son's first flight, he didn't want to sit down, it got nasty

Children on planes – this was my son’s first flight, he didn’t want to sit down, it got nasty

Having attempted, with varying results, to negotiate my way through end of term, a car breakdown, a stomach bug and a leaking bathroom in the last fortnight I am now so looking forward to going on holiday that I have found myself buying stuff in the sales simply because it’s already folded and it means fewer things to wash and iron. I have had to apply a plaster to one side of my foot where I have buffed a little too enthusiastically and all this talk of overly buttered toast has made me hungry. If you’re off on your holidays anytime soon then bon voyage, see you in August. I’m off to count out my pants.

If only...

If only…

 

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End of Term Report – how did you do?

So here we are at the end of the school year – my son’s first – and it feels as if it has gone by in the blink of an eye. It seems like only yesterday I was writing about standing nervously in the playground dropping my little boy at his new school. I joked about the mums in their gym kit in the mornings, all highlights and tans, and of my concern that I wasn’t up to the job of being fabulous in the playground at 9am. Ten months on and the school report is in and I was right, I wasn’t up to it, but I’m learning and progress has been made. It has been a joy, a lot of hard work and a sharp learning curve, but a joy none the less. Those hoards of chatting mums are now people I recognise when I pass them in the street, the catchment area being so tiny that you can’t get very far without bumping into someone connected to the school; there are pros and cons to this of course.

school3

Where everybody knows your name

But before I store away the piles of artwork and transport models made from the teachers’ recycling supplies, it’s time to face the music…

Class: Reception – 2014 / 2015

Reading & Writing: Emily has shown a good understanding of the thrice daily emails that come through from the overworked class reps (who put themselves up for the job when they can’t possibly have known the bucketloads of crap that would land in their laps from that day forth) and initially showed promise by responding promptly and positively with offers of support. However, over the course of the school year Emily appears to have become distracted and has clearly failed to read the majority of the emails resulting in missed deadlines and a complete inability to secure a babysitter in time for mums’ nights out.

Late? Who's late? I've been her for aages...

Late? Who’s late? I’ve been her for aages…

Mathematics: Emily is not a natural mathematician and never was this more obvious than in the last week of term when she brought in packets of sweets for the whole of the class and overshot by 12 packets (it was the 5 for £1 offer at Asda which did it). Also, if the school bell goes at 9.10am and Emily leaves her flat with her son at 9.09am to walk the 170 metres to school intending to arrive on time, they both need to run the distance. Very Quickly Indeed.

Not suitable for the school run?

Not suitable for the school run?

Technology: Four/five year olds attending school in 2015 use computers from day one. Most of them already know how to use iPhones and SkyPlus. That’s modern life. Emily needs to learn to Deal With It. And also to find out what I.C.T. stands for before the start of Year One.

Creative: Emily has appeared in a variety of outfits at school drop-off and pick-up and her footwear is not always appropriate for the sprint required when she is inevitably late. If she has dressed herself sensibly in a coat on a cold windy day then surely it stands to reason her four year old should be similarly attired rather than in his nativity costume from two months before. Crocs are not allowed at school as they are considered a safety hazard however trainers with laces that are constantly undone on a child who does not yet know how to lace them back up again are equally unsafe, not to mention REALLY F****NG ANNOYING FOR THE TEACHER. Please invest in velcro strapped trainers for Year One. Must Try Harder.

Puma trainers with velcro straps - good

Puma trainers with velcro straps – good

P.E. : Emily appears at drop-off on a Friday in her workout gear so she can run around the common. She has done it come rain or shine and can without fail, be relied upon to respond to comments of “Are you off for a run?” with a grimace and “Yes, so I can feel smug and stuff my face at the weekend”. Emily should be aware that she is in danger of being really tedious and should perhaps occasionally run on a Thursday instead.

Converse boots with laces - bad

Converse boots with laces – bad

Overall: Emily has made a satisfactory start in her first year of reception and has proved to be one of the oldest mums in the class. However she should consider that other far younger mums have several more children to deal with than her and they seem to manage just fine. Emily easily descends into silliness and giggling over the (very alpha-male) school caretaker when he is trying to rid the playground of tittle-tattling parents is (we perhaps wrongly assumed) beneath her. We were grateful for her contribution of a colour analysis session worth £150 for our PTFA auction evening which raised over £20,000 but think perhaps she was over sensitive about the misspelling of her name in the program. Who wouldn’t want their surname to be replaced with the name of a small, not very cuddly animal from the weasel family?

As if the shops weren't enough of a distraction round our way, now the locals are too

As if the shops weren’t enough of a distraction round our way, now the locals are too

It’s been exhausting but fun and because my son has made some lovely new friends, I have met their lovely mummies (great kids = great mums, what are the chances?) They all make better cakes than me (that is to say, they make the cakes in the first place) and they snigger with me about the school caretaker. It’s a drawback that leaving my home without make-up on is no longer an option but then so is living on a road full of boutiques and bars. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Happy school holidays everyone!

 

 

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It’ll Be All White on the Night

I knew it was going to be an interesting couple of weeks when the Wimbledon highlights show aired on the first day and we appeared to have been transported to the promotional tent at an astro turf trade fair. It had all the markings of one of the infamous BBC meetings as portrayed in the brilliant ‘W1A’; primary colours, attractive young people standing around as if in a nightclub (albeit with McDonald’s strip lighting) and an entirely redundant bar area labelled ‘Gatsby’. Clare Balding perched Val Doonican style on a stool, massive microphone in hand and the scene was set. Was this retro styling or is the BBC now cutting costs as a result of the government telling them they have to foot the bill for OAPs’ television licences? If the camera panned around just slightly to the left, I thought, we might just see an Aston Martin adorned with bikini clad dolly birds.

Clare Balding - chuck whatever you like at her, the hair stays

Clare Balding – chuck whatever you like at her, the hair stays

Balding, the BBC’s replacement for John Inverdale has looked fab in an impressive spring pallet of corals, turquoises and creams. I admit I was sad to see Inverdale demoted as I rather enjoy his offensive comments but I needn’t have worried as the ‘Wimbledon2day’ (another W1A meeting idea? “Let’s appeal to the kids yeah?”) format appears now to be changing on a daily basis while the technical issues are piling up as quickly as the fallen seeds. No sooner had the uncomfortable looking Hollister types hanging around in the background been replaced with the London sunset as seen from the roof, than Balding and guest John McEnroe were drowned out by the sound of the Wimbledon tannoy telling everyone to make their way to the exit. The following evening, another amazing sunset = everyone ordered back onto the roof. Balding this time was joined by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver. The wind had picked up, a point Balding confirmed with Lindsay Davenport when she pitched up fresh from the courts, despite the previous twenty minutes being dominated by the sight of Navratilova and Shriver struggling to control their hair which was being whipped around their faces as the camera zoomed in. Meanwhile national treasure Clare was sitting there smug and unruffled with her rock solid ‘do’ not moving an inch. It was like that scene in Airplane when the little girl is gasping for breath as the singing nun continues to whack her with her guitar. It was hilarious. Someone give that Clare Balding an Elnett sponsorship deal at once.

Shriver and Navratilova - bet they wish they were Balding

Shriver and Navratilova – bet they wish they were Balding

Meanwhile the tennis – oh yes, sorry, there has been tennis going on – has been pretty exciting too with an upset a day. And that’s just to do with the kit. We’ve had two sets of hoo-ha about male competitors’ caps (lucky or not/predominantly white or not), a question of court etiquette over female players wearing headphones as they arrive and so-called wild child of tennis Nick Kyrgios’ strop which culminated in a huge time wasting change of socks.

Andrea Petkovic in a girly skater style skirt by Adidas

Andrea Petkovic in a girly skater style skirt by Adidas

My own personal highlight has been the outfits worn by the ladies at Wimbledon this year. Not the Pippa Middletons and the Kim Murrays (all hair) but the ladies doing the playing. This year appears to be dominated by Stella McCartney designed Adidas gear and very chic it is too. The look features a lot of sheer panelling and some low cut bits meaning those who get a lot of press coverage are laughing all the way to the bank. Maria Sharapova who has glided seamlessly through to the semi finals hoping to win a second Wimbledon title, is looking on fine form. Apparently her tennis is OK too.

Maria Sharapova wears Stella McCartney for Adidas

Maria Sharapova wears Stella McCartney for Adidas

However this year, and it’s the same every year, the thing I am most fascinated by is what the men are wearing. And it’s not what you think! Ever since John McEnroe and Pat Cash retired from professional tennis they have fought a silent battle to see who can look the most like an ageing rock star for the longest. They both appeared with an earring and a laid back swagger and suddenly all the young players on the court seemed dull in comparison. Cash has since abandoned last year’s studious little specs which sent Twitter into meltdown and for 2015 is sporting blue nail varnish. I can’t approve. You wouldn’t see Tim Henman with an earring. And he might not have won Wimbledon our Tim, but hasn’t he got lovely hair still?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Caroline Wozniaki – in sports bras we trust

And so as we near the end of Wimbledon fortnight, let’s raise a glass of Pimm’s to the All England Tennis Club’s predominantly white rules. They all love it really. Even if Roger Federer is having a little moan about it this year. When you’re that good at tennis and hang out with Anna Wintour you’re allowed a whinge or two. Because really, look at him, does this look like a man who has a problem with deciding on what to wear to his match in the morning?

Just something he threw on - Roger Federer

Just something he threw on – Roger Federer

 

 

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Double Trouble

When Bucks Fizz won the Eurovision Song Contest and were suddenly thrust into our lives dragging with them a love of primary colours and highlighted perms in desperate need of conditioner, there was nothing I wouldn’t have done to be part of their group. I thought I wanted to be Cheryl (Cheryl was the chubbier, more smiley one, the antithesis of the pouting Posh Spice) but really all I wanted was a circular skirt fastened with Velcro which could be whipped off at a moment’s notice by an identikit boy in a matching sweatshirt and trousers. I also loved the children’s books Topsy and Tim the stars of which were twins who always dressed identically.

Topsy and Tim go shopping

Topsy and Tim go shopping

I flirted briefly with the idea of dressing my sister up in the same outfits as me but this never really worked as we went for different colours – Hannah blue and me red – and I had a far higher tolerance of itchy fabrics which Hannah wouldn’t abide along with yogurts with bits in (about the only thing I actually would eat). I was more successful in grooming my poor unsuspecting brother as he was seven years younger and had no idea that wearing red tights and a zoo park gift shop sweatshirt was a bit girly albeit a costume for our dance routine to Toni Basil’s ‘Hey Mickey’.

My brother and me channeling Bucks Fizz in 1982

My brother and me channeling Bucks Fizz in 1982

But this was the ’80s and as we know not a lot didn’t happen in terms of clothes in that era – no-one came out unscathed, not even three year olds. I haven’t really revisited that whole twin dressing thing, at least if I did, it was fleetingly. I once made my boyfriend of the time have a piece of fabric which matched my dress sticking out of his tux jacket as if it was a handkerchief. We were off to a black tie party and I thought it was an excellent bit of subtle styling until my friend Lee asked my boyfriend why he had my knickers sticking out of his breast pocket.

The Beckhams - their co-ordinating outfits could be a happy coincidence

The Beckhams – their co-ordinating outfits could be a happy coincidence…

... This is not

… This is not

The thing is, no matter who you are and how gorgeous and stylish, dressing to look the same as your partner never looks good. It looks cringeworthy and embarrassing and well, as if you want to be in Bucks Fizz.

Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris

Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris

So why is it so many celebrity couples, even those who rarely step out of the house without consulting a stylist, are drawn to the idea of consciously coupling their wardrobes? Do they think it makes them look cuter? Richer? More bankable? Because most of the time it just makes them look totally daft, with the blokes looking by far the most ridiculous of the two. Most men I know don’t even co-ordinate their socks.

Justin and Britney come as a denim sofa

Justin and Britney come as a denim sofa

Are Justin and Jessica just jesting?

Are Justin and Jessica just jesting?

Taylor Swift tends to adapt her wardrobe to each new boyfriend and her latest relationship with Calvin Harris is no different. I am genuinely bewildered because it appears nothing was learned from the denim explosion that turned out to be Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. That was in 2001 and yet since then not only has Justin Timberlake stepped out matching his (generally rather elegant) wife Jessica Biel but countless others have jumped on the matchy-matchy bandwagon too.

Topsy and Tim on holiday

Topsy and Tim on holiday

Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan on holiday

Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan on holiday

The Beckhams love a bit of complementary dressing. They’ve refined it so it’s not so in your face these days but still, do we really need reminding that they are as one? It would be so refreshing if just once they appeared on the red carpet in horribly mismatched outfits – David in the suit he wears when he hangs out with Prince William and Victoria in her World Cup 2006 in Baden Baden hot pants and water melon boob push up bra for example. I can’t help feeling dressing like twins is beneath the Beckhams now what with him having an OBE and her being a feted designer an’ all. We expect it of Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan, it would be disappointing if they didn’t have his n’ hers perma tans, his n’ hers dazzling teeth and his n’ hers swimwear but the Beckhams don’t have anything to prove anymore do they?

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the British Academy Film Awards 2014

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the British Academy Film Awards 2014

And then Brad n’ Ange, who are normally too cool for school did it at the BAFTAs last year and it jumped to a whole new level. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was a status thing, along with having multiple houses and children with peculiar names. Mere mortals don’t go out dressed the same as their partners because they would be laughed at in the pub and then possibly set upon on the way home. Celebrity couples simply climb back into their limo. It’s a way of announcing “Look at us, we can do exactly what we want, including dressing like toddlers!” You won’t see Prince William and Kate appearing in public with co-ordinated wardrobes because they have the status by default and besides they’re far too concerned with being appropriate to waste time comparing the wash of their jeans.

Olivia Palermo and Johannes Huebl breezily co-ordinated

Olivia Palermo and Johannes Huebl breezily co-ordinated

One final word – if you’re tempted to go out looking like 50% of Bucks Fizz (Mike Nolan and Jay Aston rather than Cheryl and Bobby I’m guessing) then for goodness sake make it look like a hilarious accident. After all, there is not a human being in the world who didn’t find Rod, Jane and Freddie deeply disturbing – you have been warned.

Absolutely nothing breezy about this pair

Absolutely nothing breezy about this pair

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The Beginning of Season Sale

I rarely buy new season clothes when they first appear in the shops. I know the sensible fashiony people with their finger on the pulse buy their winter coat in August and their bikini in February to ensure not missing out but I just can’t do it. I don’t have the wardrobe space for one thing. For another, who in their right mind (apart from Gisele Bundchen) wants to be trying on swimwear right after Christmas?

Sequin skirt £21 down from £39.50 at M&S

Sequin skirt £21 down from £39.50 at M&S

Fashion, by its very nature, is always one step ahead. The Autumn Winter shows are scheduled in March and Spring Summer in September. This would be fine and logical if those seasons then started in reality six months later. However these days and for the past few years now, summer hasn’t properly started until July and a diluted winter not until December.

Camisole top £12 down from £20 at Top Shop

Camisole top £12 down from £20 at Top Shop

So we shouldn’t really be surprised that the ‘mid season’ sales are appearing before most of us have even turned the heating on/off which then of course has the knock-on effect of the ‘end of season’ sales commencing in at what is really only the beginning of the season. This year we are now in full blown sale mode in June and it’s hardly surprising given most of us are still wearing a jacket to go out and eating porridge for breakfast. I actually wore my puffa to the playground last week for goodness sake.

Dress £124.95 down from £249 at Anthropologie

Dress £124.95 down from £249 at Anthropologie

My greedy, shopaholic self is thrilled that there is all this discounted stuff on the high street three weeks before I go on holiday. Meanwhile my pragmatic, list making side is recoiling in horror at the thought of the shops being full of knitwear and boots by the time I get back. An outfit I daringly bought in April because I loved it so much I didn’t want to miss out is still in its packaging. It’s probably also half price now dammit.

Knotted Dress £25 down from £39.99 at H&M

Knotted Dress £25 down from £39.99 at H&M

There is only one thing for it and that is to be sensible and to buy pieces that will work right through to the end of the year rather than just in the pub garden or on the beach. And actually the Spring Summer 2015 collections have been full of versatile colours and fabrics so there will be plenty to snap up.

1. Suede and leather

Suede bucket bag £35 down from £50 at ASOS

Suede bucket bag £35 down from £50 at ASOS

It’s everywhere and while it seemed daft at the start of the season, if you invested in a bag or a pair of shorts in suede or leather it’s probably the hardest working thing in your wardrobe. It’s a no-brainer as sale purchases go.

2. Silk

Silk blouse £64.90 down from £85 at Uterque

Silk blouse £64.90 down from £85 at Uterque

A second season of Gillian Anderson and her silk shirts in The Fall meant the love affair with anything silky continued. The soft shades in the shops now will look gorgeous with the heavier fabrics later in the year.

3. Swimwear

Swimsuit £14 down from £25 at M&S

Swimsuit £14 down from £25 at M&S

Well obviously because swimwear is an absolute nightmare to shop for at any time of the year so if you find something you love and it also happens to fit then get it – get it twice, three times if it’s in the sale! This M&S one is a structured fabric and has a lovely slightly 50s feel while still being completely classic.

4. Midi Skirts

Midi skirt £59 down from £135 at Reiss

Midi skirt £59 down from £135 at Reiss

I can’t believe I’m saying this yet again but they’re not going away are they? They’re great for any age and any occasion and whether it’s hot or cold they work. This Reiss midi will be just as fabulous with a polo neck and boots.

5. Maxi Dresses

Maxi dress £19.99 down from £49.99 at Zara

Maxi dress £19.99 down from £49.99 at Zara

This reduction is too good to be true. The colours of this floaty fabric ensure an easy transition into autumn and the dominance of pretty maxi dresses this summer means they won’t be going anywhere fast. Team with a skinny rib underneath or a chunky knit over the top and then add boots.

6. Slingback heels

Slingback heels £85 down from £135 at Reiss

Slingback heels £85 down from £135 at Reiss

Who doesn’t need a pair of classic black heels? These Reiss slingbacks are classic with a twist and oh so elegant. You might as well get them when they’re reduced because you’re never not going to replace classic black heels when they look worn out are you? They’re like carpet in that way.

Now where did I put my credit card… Happy Beginning of End of Sale Shopping Everyone!

 

 

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Summertime and the Dressing is Easy

I booked my holiday flights this week. We’re not going until the end of July and so having counted the weeks in my diary I now have something of an understanding of how my small son feels when he asks me in October how long it is until his next birthday (it’s August).

Holiday postcard print dress reduced to £62.30 at Boden

Holiday postcard print dress reduced to £62.30 at Boden

Here in London we haven’t had many opportunities to break out the summer wardrobe thus far so it is occupying my mind which clothes I should take with me for a fortnight in Spain. Of course these days I share my suitcase with my son and then when I get there I share the hanging space with my boyfriend (you win some, you lose some – he is one of a rare breed who actually likes to unpack) so there are limits. You may recall the ‘hand luggage only’ debate last year, well the boyfriend ended up being amazed at how little I appeared to have packed, so I can’t help but feel there is a reputation to be maintained in this area.

Tropical print dress reduced to £27 at & Other Stories

Tropical print dress reduced to £27 at & Other Stories

I am of the belief that there are few garments simpler than the dress, especially in the summer months. This season, dresses come in all styles, lengths and colours and there is not a body shape or occasion in the world that has not been catered for. A pair of shorts requires a certain amount of leg preparation and well, aren’t they just a terrifying item anyway? A dress however, can cover a multitude of sins (in my case, pasty skin), can be styled up for the office or down for the beach and best of all, you merely have to add shoes and you’re done – precious time saved. It’s the sartorial equivalent of toast.

Midi dress £65 at & Other Stories

Perfect day to evening dress £65 at & Other Stories

I have trawled (oh the agonies) through hundreds of dresses to find some of the most versatile and problem solving pieces on the high street. In a bid to cover all eventualities from the boardroom to the boardwalk I have chosen these dresses for their unique selling points, based on what ladies tell me they are looking for (and can’t often find) in a summer dress.

 

 

Maxi dress £98 at Stefanel

Maxi dress £98 at Stefanel

If your legs aren’t your favourite feature then there has never been a better time to look fabulous in a midi or full length dress. Team with flip flop style casual footwear in the daytime or on holiday and jewellery, a belt and mules to vamp it up a notch as the sun goes down. Other Stories is your best bet for midis currently.

 

Striped dress £70 at French Connection

Striped dress £70 at French Connection

The biggest gripe I hear is that there are never any dresses out there with sleeves for those who prefer a little more coverage on their upper arms. Admittedly, it’s not easy but they do exist which is lucky given that it hasn’t been nearly warm enough for those of us in the UK to go without sleeves. This number from French Connection has sleeves and it embraces the nautical and midi trends too. Wear with white plimsolls in the day for a laid back French vibe.

 

Multi-tasking dress Reduced to £24.99 at Gap

Multi-tasking dress
Reduced to £24.99 at Gap

My favourite find of last summer was the 3 in 1 stretch dress from Gap which was obviously a hit as Gap have brought it back this year. The new version here has an uneven hem but retains the roll down bandeau top ideal for covering up from the pool to the table. I wore mine constantly last year both as dress and skirt, it’s the ultimate easy holiday piece as it doesn’t tend to crease in your suitcase. Add a tan belt and floppy hat for a romantic daytime look.

Shirt dress £131 at All Saints

Shirt dress £131 at All Saints

It can be a bit of a shock when summer suddenly arrives and you don’t feel body confident enough to go with the figure hugging stuff. This gorgeous dress from All Saints is a great work piece, will work equally as well with tights and a jacket as without and best of all has an eye-catching print and a bit of ruching around the dreaded tummy area. You’ll really get your money’s worth with this one.

Dress £195 at Reiss

Dress £195 at Reiss

It’s always harder I think to dress for occasions when the temperature rises, as it’s harder to be comfortable all day. Light fabrics show sweat too easily and god forbid you should drop something down pastel silk. Still, this dress from Reiss is so melt in the mouth, I couldn’t leave it out. It’s got pleats, it’s got a waist and it’s demure enough to wear to a wedding or christening. Probably best to stick to white wine and potato during any meals though.

Caped dress £49.99 at Zara

Caped dress £49.99 at Zara

And for my final trick… this crimson dress is so unlike any other I saw I have dreamed up an extra category just so I can include it. It’s such a statement dress that it would almost be worth buying it now to simply hang in your wardrobe (my boyfriend bought me an amazing dress I didn’t need based on this theory – sigh). It has sleeves this dress, but not much else, so underwear would be tricky, but hey, if you were wearing a dress like this wouldn’t you want to walk into rooms backwards anyway? Enjoy the sun dear readers, get your summer dresses out and use the time you save getting dressed in the morning to go shopping in the sales for a few more.

 

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Supermarket Sweep

WARNING – THIS BLOG CONTAINS DREADFUL CLOTHES!

Just recently a piece in the dreaded Daily Mail caught my eye and I was even more horrified than usual by the content. While I will happily read the infamous column of shame to catch up on gossip and who’s wearing what, I take it for what it is and add a hefty amount of salt.

This Primark dress is according to the Mail "perfect for day to night dressing"

This Primark dress is according to the Mail “perfect for day to night dressing”

The Mail thinks this Asda kimono makes this look "more dressy". Cripes.

The Mail thinks this Asda kimono makes this look “more dressy”. Cripes.

This particular article was focusing in on a capsule holiday wardrobe and promising it for a mere £60 care of the budget brands Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Primark and Asda. Now I won’t dismiss any brand out of hand, you never know where the next must-have item might come from and if an outfit is styled beautifully much of the time you can’t tell who has made it anyway.  For her ‘going away’ outfit Friend Cesca wore a fabulous Pucci-esque dress that turned out to be from Asda and I have a £14 Primark skirt which has been mistaken for Prada. Consequently I was excited to see what the Daily Mail fashion lot might have come up with.

 

OK, THIS IS WHERE IT GETS BETTER…

 

Dress £20 at Asda

Dress £20 at Asda

Jumpsuit £25 at Asda

Jumpsuit £25 at Asda

I was gobsmacked. It was the worst collection of flammable looking horrible garments I have ever seen and the comments left below the article proved that nobody else was terribly impressed either. I wouldn’t have paid £20 for it, let alone £60 and I doubt any age group would have been inspired by the selection. And I once bought a dress in Peacock’s, I really will shop anywhere.

Wedges £12 at Tesco

Wedges £12 at Tesco

Maxi dress £20 at Tesco

Maxi dress £20 at Tesco

So instead of lamenting the fate of the poor Daily Mail readers who quite possibly may not know any better than to follow such misleading advice, I got busy with choosing my own pieces from the British supermarket. Although of course if you actually want to look like an old lady’s bed, then the peach coloured valance above is absolutely the one for you.

 

Bikini top £6 at Primark

Bikini top £6 at Primark

Bikini bottoms £4 at Primark

Bikini bottoms £4 at Primark

I would happily wear any of these garments in London any day of the week, not just on holiday. They are versatile, on trend (unlike the huge unflattering layers of the orange number) and in my opinion, genuine bargains rather than just cheap and cheerful. The colours chosen for the Mail article are dated, unattractive and irrelevant for this season. A teenager might wear the shorts and kimono combo on a package deal to Faliraki at a push but having been a teenager on a package deal to Faliraki myself once, I sincerely doubt it.

Trousers £30 from Sainsbury's

Trousers £30 from Sainsbury’s

Dress £22 at Sainsbury's

Dress £22 at Sainsbury’s

And anyway who wants to be faffing about with all those separates? Far better to keep it simple when it’s hot and space in your suitcase is limited.

Stick to the outrageous gossip Daily Mail and leave the supermarket sweep to those of us who shop somewhere other than Waitrose.

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Another Last Day of Disco

It’s that time of year again, the time of year when friend Sophie’s email goes out to notify, or warn everyone of her forthcoming birthday. It’s a notification to keep the date free until she’s had time to design, redesign and angst over her invitation. It’s also a notification to those close to her that the birthday countdown has begun and we should expect questions about glitter balls, playlists and costumes on a regular basis (much like the year before and the year before that).

Mick and Bianca Jagger at Studio 54

Mick and Bianca Jagger at Studio 54

Because make no mistake, where there is a party organised by Sophie, there will be a theme and this year’s theme is Studio 54. Cue massive groan from my boyfriend who would rather pick his own eyebrows out hair by hair than go to a party in fancy dress. With a fortnight to go, boyfriend is nudged by email about the playlist which Sophie has been compiling. She is needing more tunes and is asking those she deems in the know (although Sophie herself is well qualified having worked in the music industry) for suggestions.

Angelica Huston and Jack Nicholson

Angelica Huston and Jack Nicholson

Boyfriend pauses his eyebrow attack long enough to respond that Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ isn’t actually as good as the full 17 minutes of Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You’. At this point I decide not to engage in this email thread despite being copied in and poised to remark upon the omission of Kylie and Jason’s ‘Especially For You’ which went down a storm (with me mostly) last year. Although last year’s party had an ’80s theme you may recall so Kylie and Jason were worthy candidates.

Farah Fawcett

Farah Fawcett

Diane von Furstenberg with Andy Warhol

Diane von Furstenberg with Andy Warhol

But with a week to go have we decided on our outfits? No we haven’t. And yet the Studio 54 look lends itself perfectly to the jumpsuited, one-shouldered, ‘free the nipple’ times we live in currently. That’s the problem, there’s just too much choice and since I really shouldn’t be buying any more clothes, the procrastination is saving me money. Every cloud and all that. So far I have unearthed a hat, a sequin jacket and a feathery jacket in my wardrobe, all of which I am ashamed to say have never been worn and still have the tags in. All very Studio 54 and with the addition of a fabulous pair of knickers, the perfect outfit. But I don’t have the nerve to turn up in just knickers and a hat so it’s back to the drawing board.

Diane von Furstenberg dress £280 at The Outnet

Diane von Furstenberg dress £280 at The Outnet

Jumpsuit £245 at Reiss

Jumpsuit £245 at Reiss

Studio 54 opened in New York in 1977 and played host to the likes of Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Diane von Furstenberg and Grace Jones. It was the home of glamorous excess and where turning up on a horse, or yes, in just your knickers might get you past the notoriously tough door policy but was only groundbreaking until the next outrageous act. I think Sophie would rather I turned up starkers than ride a horse over her new flooring but I’ll probably hedge my bets anyway with one of the many jumpsuits around .

One shoulder dress £100 at ASOS

One shoulder dress £100 at ASOS

DVF dress £200 at The Outnet

DVF dress £200 at The Outnet

Meanwhile the boyfriend is refusing to discuss costumes preferring to rely on the dodgy grey wig he wore last year to accessorise his ’80s tracksuit. The look was inadvertently Jimmy Savile and could probably double up as Andy Warhol.

Let’s face it, anything went at Studio 54 as long as it was fabulous. A flick through the pictures of the rich and famous partying there show a love of metallics and an aversion to the bra. Perhaps those in need of support stayed at home because the plunging, tight and sheer garments of the time certainly did not lend themselves to a big bust. Sophie and I have spent many an afternoon throughout our adult life considering this particular sartorial problem and there simply is no solution other than to let it all hang out. You could wear some eye catching shoes and a jaw dropping necklace and hope that no-one notices what’s going on in the middle I suppose. Back in the day, I suspect everyone was so out of it they genuinely didn’t notice.

Earrings £7.99 at H&M

Earrings £7.99 at H&M

Silver shoes £85 at River Island

Silver shoes £85 at River Island

In reality we could kit ourselves out at H&M for under £50 and at the end of it all have an outfit that would work just as nicely on Christmas Day. But there’s something about Studio 54 that evokes scandal and bad behaviour and well, perhaps head to toe lycra from the high street won’t quite cut it. So it’s great timing that The Outnet, that mecca for cut price designer wear, suddenly has a wealth of Diane von Furstenberg stuff. She who went to Studio 54 on the arm of Andy Warhol himself! It’s a bit more wonga but not much for authenticity that is almost too good to be true.

Dress £120 at Whistles

Dress £120 at Whistles

Sequin dress £85 at River Island

Sequin dress £85 at River Island

Right, I’m off to tong my hair, dig out green eye shadow and get started on some pec exercises. If anyone knows where Sophie can get her hands on a glitter ball please let me know so next year she has more time to spend worrying about the playlist.

 

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