How to build confidence and avoid the cloak of invisibility

I’ve written in the past about the danger of wearing clothes that make too much of a statement. Driven by a media that is focused on selling magazines, many women make the mistake of wearing noisy clothes that get them noticed for the wrong reasons.

Last week, a good friend who is approaching her 50th birthday – and reads Confidence Tricks reminded me that there is a flip side to this.

She told me that she was increasingly feeling like she was becoming invisible. She was finding it hard to find (non-noisy) clothes that she felt she could wear that that would help her maintain her confidence as she – gently, in my opinion – aged.

In the past nearly 40 years of Wardrobe I have heard this many times before. In fact I remember an ad agency sending two women out shopping on two consecutive days. The first day dressed in ordinary and fairly dull clothes and the second day looking more chic and confident. The first day in their ordinary clothes and wearing a headscarf nobody seemed to realise they were even there and in shops they were totally ignored. The second day they were achieving admiring glances and were attentively acknowledged by sales staff when they entered smart shops.

There is a way of dressing after your late 40s which is still sensual, attractive and certainly not invisible. I have written about it lots – just click on the Confident Personal Style category in the right hand column of this blog and you’ll find tips and a seven part series on the subject.

Like everything else, achieving this goal of confidence through the decades will not be cheap, but if you keep everything simple and classic with a bit of edginess it will last longer.

You might not be at the cutting edge of High Street fashion but you can be at the cutting edge of style and good taste. Classic doesn’t mean boring. It means finding shop that believes in good quality and cut, with experienced people who will care for you and your individual concerns. How do you find these places? Ask anyone who you think looks good. Recommendation, word of mouth is the best way always.

And it’s also really important to remember as you mature that your personal grooming will take quite a bit longer. Clothes alone won’t ‘do it’. Hair, make-up and skin care (face and body) have to feature importantly and of course never forget ageing teeth.

And since we’re talking about invisibility, don’t forget you always need to build on “good foundations”. Underwear is less invisible than you might think and needs to fit well. More on this soon.


Extensions are not the way to extend the life in your hair

It was good to see a piece in the Sunday Times magazine last week on keeping your hair looking great as you get older – something I’ve written about too.

What wasn’t good, though was the suggestion that adding ultralight hair extensions was a good way to ‘create invisible volume’. They may create a short term boost, but in the long term hair extensions are damaging.  Why? Because they are glued on
to the hair and heated to attach themselves; and they have to be removed after a while. All of which simply adds damage.

There are preparations from tricologist Philip Kingsley which are really effective in maintaining your hair’s natural volume – and I can personally attest to this. It does take some discipline as you need to use them regularly; but if you want full healthy hair regular stimulating treatments and indeed a good diet is essential.

If you’re looking for a good brush, the article mentions the expensive Mason Pearson and a cheaper brand called Isnis.  I find the Tangle Teaser (on sale in lots of places) a better and more modern option and it is kind on wet hair. I no longer use my Mason Pearson.


How to be fleet of foot

I recently wrote about the importance of regular pedicures.

This week, following a visit to my chiropodist, I’m going one step further.

I think that a lot of women neglect their feet. Perhaps it’s because they are hidden in shoes in the winter. But in the summer, you see a lot of feet in sandals with cracked heels and in a state in which you wouldn’t, for example, want to show your hands.

Given the load that your feet take and the shoes they get stuffed into (and let’s face it, we’re not going to stop wearing shoes that are more fashionable than sensible just because they’re a bit tight), it’s not surprising that feet take a battering.  A
chiropodist can help prevent a lot of the damage, but most people don’t go to them until they are in pain – and by that point it can be a serious problem.

Going to a chiropodist is the next stage on from a pedicure.  It’s not cosmetic, but clinical – chiropodists are medically trained. It’s like going to a dental hygienist before you see a dentist – preventative.

A chiropodist removes dead skin and corns before they get to the painful stage.  Afterwards you feel incredibly light.

They can also make a cushion to fit between your toes that will take the pressure off the points where they push against each other. Having these made to measure is far more comfortable than the ones you can buy in a shop.

Most women if they were to visit a chiropodist twice a year could have good looking feet well into their seventies and avoid the knobbly disfiguration that many of us endure.

And that’s got to be worth less than an hour of your time acouple of times a year.


Don’t let your hair let down your face

I often talk about the importance of proportions in relation to clothes – whether it’s the right proportions for your body or the right proportions for an outfit.  An equally important proportion to get right is your hair in relation to your face.

I’ve noticed recently that an increasing number of women are wearing their hair much longer than is flattering for them. In my opinion, it makes their faces look tired and drawn – and can often hide a very beautiful bone structure.

If you think you’re one of these women, try pulling your hair away from your face and see how your face seems to change.

Hair doesn’t have to be very short.  In fact on most women, chin length hair – and often a bit longer – can be more flattering as you get older than very short hair.

We are now coming into a winter season where there is going to be a lot of emphasis on shoulder and collar detail.  Longer, feathered hair is going to look incredibly dated and will not enhance the detailing of this season.


Invisible tights

You may have noticed from previous posts that I enjoy trekking around the shops finding interesting new products to complement building your confident personal style.

Because I know that in summer some people will never be persuaded into tights, I’ve been looking for products which can make your legs look their best even if you haven’t been on a sun-filled holiday.

I’ve found two that I would recommend.

One is called Perfect Legs Skin Miracle and is from a company called  It is, according to the blurb, a “powerful complex of stable vitamin C and E to help even out skin tone and restructure the skin as well as arnica to fade bruising.”

Perfect LegsHaving tried it, I think it’s good and does what it says it will.  It doesn’t make the leg looked tanned – and I reckon you need a little base tan for this to work properly – so it might be less effective on post-winter white legs.

The second product is called Airbrush Legs. It’s an American product by Sally Hansen; and it’s like make up for the legs. You smooth it on with your hands and it almost looks as though you’re wearing tights.

Airbrush Legs

The beauty of both of these products is that they are not permanent, they wash off just like make up.  Since some days your legs will not be on show, this is a really good way to achieve an even looking fake tan, because you can start again if you get it wrong.

I have to admit that in the Sally Hansen product there is a paraben, which I’m not so keen on; but since you wash it off at night and you don’t use it every day, I’m less concerned in this case.

Although these are both good products, my philosophy is still that if you’re in a serious meeting you don’t see men without socks on. So the tights that that I’m recommending for this summer season, which are very fine but very hard wearing, are again by Wolford and they are called Individual 5.  There are a number of natural colours and what you choose will depend on your skin colouring and of course the colour of your shoes.  A colour that I’ve found suitable in this denier is caramel. These tights are perfect for natural looking summer legs.


A good outlook for investment in the sales

I’m currently in Milan on my first buying trip for next Spring/Summer.  I’m noticing that, although there are some interesting new fabrics around, colours are very similar to this season (with a few additions).

This provides an excellent opportunity for people who believe in investing in the best quality clothes they can afford to make some very astute purchases in the sales.

There are two kinds of shopping at our end of the market.  One is all about buying big brands.  People want the name; they may buy over the internet; they don’t care (or perhaps are just not aware) if it doesn’t fit them perfectly; and they assume, rather than understand, the quality just because of the name.  Given that many of the big “Italian” brands do very little of their manufacture in Italy, the idea of the Italian craftsmen in their brands is more than a bit hollow.

The second approach (which is what Confidence Tricks is all about) is about searching out quality and design, and clothes that look and feel fantastic, regardless of the name on the label.

It seems to me that we are going into an era where quality and value matter more. The dramatic changes in fashion that drive big brand sales are slowing down as people realise that what’s important is that their clothes look and feel great on them as individuals.

Often the biggest sale discounts are on clothes which will look most dated the following season.

So in this summer’s sale season, you will still find lots of discounted big brand names.  As always, if you’re going to take advantage of this, make sure you’re getting good value not just a big discount – a mistake in the sale is still a mistake.  (See my previous post about this)

But my advice would be to take advantage of the fact that this season’s high quality clothes will have an even longer shelf life and to invest in one very high quality item which you wouldn’t normally consider buying at full price – and feel the difference.

The Wardrobe sale begins on Thursday (30 June) 8am to 8pm.



Confidence tip: summer’s here. Legs are white. Don’t panic

Regular readers will know that I’m always on the lookout for a good self-tanner – after all, looking tanned (or at least healthy) when more of our flesh is on show in the summer heat is a great way to boost that confident feeling.

One of the best I’ve come across (and used) is Clarins’ Delectable Self-tanning Mousse with Mirabelle Oil. It has a factor 15 SPF for protection in case you’re out in the sun; it doesn’t contain parabens; it has a natural colour; it doesn’t have a bad smell like many others on the market; and I’ve found it quite long lasting.  It also, in the Mirabelle Oil has a very good moisturising agent, so you don’t need to use another product before you apply it (although it is important to use a scrub first to remove dead skin cells before using any self-tanner).  All in all, it’s an all-round good way to boost your look while protecting your skin from the effects of heat and sun.


Confidence tip: polish up your style for summer and beyond

There are a lot of navy and other shades of blue in this summer’s collections and this will continue into winter and next summer.  With these colours, the bright red nail polish that was very popular last summer looks a bit dated now – apart from when you’re on vacation.

A lot of people seem to be wearing grey and browny-grey shades of nail polish, but to me these look a bit too flat.

My favourite to go with this season’s colours is Merino Cool by Essie as it has a bit of life to it and still a modern tone. It is also a nice alternative to red when you’re wearing black.


How to be confident whatever the conditions

There was an interesting lesson in sartorial planning last week as the Obama’s came to our windswept shores.

The First Lady, who is usually very well advised – and mostly looked very stylish throughout the trip – suffered some clearly uncomfortable moments when the wind simultaneously caught the short, but full skirt of her dress and whipped her hair into a Jedward-style frenzy.  With one hand on her head and the other on her crotch, it was every woman’s nightmare scenario.  And it was in front of the world’s press.

Knowing that she would be climbing down the steps of a plane, there was always going to be a high probability of getting caught in the wind. A dress with a straighter skirt (which if well cut would do her more favours than the style she is currently wearing) or even a trouser suit, and a hairstyle that was less likely to get windswept would have prevented the difficulty.

Getting good advice for important occasions is not just about how you look, it’s also about anticipating the conditions.  When you are buying an outfit, you should expect to be asked questions by the stylist about the occasion and the location. For example, for quite a while I dressed an MP who used to sit right behind the Prime Minister.  We noticed that when the camera was on the PM, her knees were on show.  So we made sure she was dressed appropriately.

With weddings and the season upon us, it’s a good time to be thinking about the weather conditions and how to dress so that we don’t get caught out.  There’s a high probability in the UK that the temperature will drop like a stone in the evening. For some reason we never seem to anticipate this when dressing for big summer occasions. I am lucky enough to go to Glyndebourne most years, and for many years I turned up looking good but feeling frozen.  It took a while to realise that I should be choosing an outfit that would work with a summer coat.  Not exactly rocket science, but it makes the occasion so much more enjoyable.




‘Elegant and desirable’: what’s not to like?

Last week, I wrote that we could be on the verge of a new era of style in the UK where women will want to look both elegant and desirable.  A number of people have said to me that they felt ‘elegant’ mainly meant old and that ‘desirable’ was not the main message they wanted their clothes to convey – especially at work.

I thought it would be worth expanding on this because I think there are a lot of issues bound up in this. First, ‘elegant’ doesn’t need to mean prissy.  I don’t think we’re going backwards to a glorious bygone era or anything like that.  We are moving forwards into an era where good designers are recognising that people want more for their money in terms of design and quality and want clothes that suit them as individuals.

I see many of our younger customers really starting to understand the concept of buying clothes that help build their confidence because they know they look good, rather than just hiding their lack of confidence because people notice the clothes.

Desirability isn’t a sexual thing in this context,  it’s about not looking or feeling ridiculous. Contrast Pippa Middleton’s dress at last month’s wedding with so many bridesmaids’ dresses.  Her dress was neither twee nor vulgar; it accentuated her body.  In the work context, I do think that confidence springs from knowing that you look great and that it’s you, not the fabric that’s covering you up that people are engaging with.

The era of bling might be coming to an end too. For many years, a lot of top designers have geared their collections towards the bling-hungry markets in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia.  I’ve always found it amusing that, having been forced to wear the same clothes as each other under decades of Communist rule, Russian women were happy to be forced by fashion to look the same as each other.

But this is changing as tastes are maturing: we have a group of Russian women coming to see us in London soon because they want clothes which are more elegant and less vulgar that they’re being offered at home.

So I’m going to stick with ‘elegant and desirable’ as the combination of words to describe the direction that I think and hope more and more UK women will embrace in developing their own confident personal style.