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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.


Confident Personal Style: What will people say?

Having dealt in previous posts with the money and time excuses for not making a start on developing your Personal Confident Style, this week let’s look at the fear of other people’s reactions.

If you start to take your appearance seriously and change your look, your work colleagues are likely to comment on it. They may think you’re trying to get one step ahead of them. They might be right! When you hear negative remarks – remarks often borne out of jealousy – the simplest response is: “I haven’t got time to mess about in the morning, so I’ve decided to adopt an easier way of dressing. Getting myself together makes my life easier.”

If you’re worried that being seen to spend time on how you look will mean that you’ll be taken less seriously, here’s something that may change your mind. Some years ago an internationally renowned business school carried out a survey to find out to what extent a professional woman’s wardrobe mattered. Half of the respondents – all MBA students – listed their appearance as a top priority; half claimed not to pay much attention to how they looked. Five years later, those who had made the effort had progressed far more quickly than those who hadn’t considered it a priority.

A good way of judging your female boss is to study her reaction when you change your appearance. A confident boss will be delighted if her subordinates look good because it reflects well on her. She’ll be the kind of boss who will enjoy helping you progress. My husband developed a theory during his time as a management consultant that first rate managers hire first rate staff; second rate managers hire third rate staff – usually because they feel insecure about their own careers.


Confident Personal Style – part 9 – how to use fashion magazines

This is going to be a short post.

For most of us, looking at fashion magazines and thinking about how to apply what they show and talk about to our own style is more likely to drain confidence than build it.

Unsurprisingly, I read a lot of fashion mags. But I don’t read them to keep up with the latest advice on how to dress.  I read them for the artistic direction and some interesting (and not necessarily fashion-related) articles.  For me fashion, magazines are a way of taking the boredom out of air travel, hair colouring and dentists’ waiting rooms

 Magazines are now much more about fashion stylists doing artistic photo-shoots, and journalists wanting to be seen to be trendy, than about showing clothes that the average woman can wear. They are also advertising vehicles and shy away from exclusive clothes or expensive ones unless they are from companies who advertise.

None of which is unreasonable – it’s just business. But as a result, one of the most common concerns I hear from clients is that reading fashion magazines makes them feel old and out-of-date as they can’t imagine themselves in the clothes that are shown – even in features aimed at working wardrobes. The opposite of helping build style confidence.

The US magazines tend to have a better approach to showing wearable clothes; and if I could have only one magazine I think it would be American Harpers Bazaar.

One thing magazines are very good at is picking up on new cosmetic products.  I’ve discovered many of the products I use and have recommended in Confidence Tricks in the pages of magazines.  I also think that magazines often provide very good ideas for accessorising your outfit – although shoes that look good in photo shoots may not be ones you could walk to the office in.

So my advice with magazines is to enjoy the art and the stories; pick up the nuggets of information on cosmetics and accessories; but don’t let the lack of clothes you feel you could wear make you feel unconfident in your style.

Trust me, it’s not you; it’s them.


Confident Personal Style – part 8 – proportions

One of the most important inputs to gaining real confidence in your style is to understand proportions.  What this means is understanding what your physical differences are, and selecting clothes appropriately.

Too often people regard their own proportions as a problem.  Whether it’s a big bust, wide hips, a small waist, short legs relative to your torso, sloping shoulders, a short neck – the list goes on – I regularly hear the complaint that ‘they don’t make clothes for people of my shape’.

This is generally not true.  What we usually mean by this is that we don’t know how to manage the things that make us different from the ‘average’ shape – whatever that is.

Here are some examples of how you can minimise or camouflage your ‘unusual’ proportions:

  • If you have a very small waist relative to the rest of your body, don’t buy things that draw attention to it such as very wide belts, especially if they’re a different colour as these will make your hips look wider. Instead, look for something that doesn’t accentuate your waist, like a skirt with a not too fitted jacket. You could go for a dress with a waist detail, but ensure that it is of the same fabric.  Here are some examples:



  • If you have wide hips, the trick is to balance out the shoulder area. The look you’re going for is an upside down triangle where the shoulder line balances out the wider hips.  Look for shirts, tops and jackets with wider shoulders or interesting detailing around the shoulder area that draws the eye away from the hip area.
  • Short legs relative to your torso can be mitigated through sensitive adjustment to skirt lengths.  It’s a good idea to get specific personal advice with this, though, because it really does vary according to people’s height and length of torso.  The one thing I would say is keep away from full skirts and flat shoes.
  • Sloping shoulders can be padded out.  But you should do this very carefully.  The 80s-style massive shoulder pads that go past the shoulder are not the look you want – it’s more about gently building up the shoulder area so the slope from the neck is more gradual
  • If you have a short neck, you should avoid high necklines and choose one that stands away from the neck.  Make sure the rever is not too closed-in.  And don’t have your hair too long as it pulls the face downwards, emphasising the short neck. Scoop and cowl necklines are very flattering; and avoid high buttoning jackets and dresses.
  • The advice for a short neck also applies to a big bust, but here it rather depends on the positioning of the bust. When trying on jackets, I would go for a two button rather than a one button jacket.  But again this really where you need individual help from an expert: in general, the problem with a one button jacket is that it can gape over a large bust, but I have also seen it look very, very beautiful. (You can find more tips for the bigger bust in this post from last year.)

These are just a few of the more common proportion-type issues that we help with on a regular basis.  I’ll be happy to address others if you have concerns about another aspect of your body shape, so please let me know.

The advice here is general and it’s always good to ask for personal advice when buying as everyone’s proportions are different; and you will find that stylists in the better shops will be able not only to point you to the right clothes, but also work with a tailor to alter clothes to suit your proportions.

Next time: how to use fashion magazines


Austerity, quality, style and the sales… how to bag a the right kind of bargain

The press – and last week’s UK budget announcement – are full of warnings about how tough things are going to get financially in the coming years.  Economists are making comparisons with post-war austerity as we need to pay back huge debts incurred over the past few years.

I’m not – as you’re probably aware – an economist.

But if we’re drawing parallels with a previous era when people worried about the cost of things, then there are some lessons for building your wardrobe too.

The first is that, when people spend they will seek out quality and value for money.  They look for clothes that will last.


 This means both that the clothes are well made and won’t fall apart after a season; and that they will not date quickly.

As a result brand labels and fashion become less important in purchase decisions and style becomes more important.

In this environment the trick is to find clothes that look modern now, but keep their modernity for years as part of your own personal style rather than slavishly following fashions.

Usually that means understanding what quality looks like and then buying, in smaller amounts, the best you can afford.


I hope, if you’ve been reading this blog, you will already be doing this. The right response to the current economic climate, even if your budget is smaller, is to continue doing it.  Buying the best quality you can afford is still the best value for money.

The second impact of the economic situation is that there is much greater competition for jobs, so it’s even more important for women to recognise that they need to look good and feel confident at all times.

With the Summer sales coming up, now is a good time to start shopping wisely and pick up the wardrobe basics.  Make sure you use same criteria as if you were buying full price. Don’t just buy something because it’s reduced.  And remember when sale shopping that shops are under pressure to make space for the new season, so don’t allow yourself to be sold clothes that don’t suit or don’t fit. You should expect the same services in sale time as in non-sale time.


This is especially important for the coming sales as good quality clothes have sold extremely well this season.  To get quality bargains it’s worth trying to get there on the first day, so give your favourite shop(s) a call to see when their sales start.

The Wardrobe sale starts this Thursday at 8am. Early bird and all that.


Protecting your wardrobe investment

One of the most aggravating things when you come to change your wardrobe from summer to winter or vice versa is finding your favourite cashmere sweater has been used as a meal by a hungry moth.

It’s around now, when eggs are being laid and start to hatch – and just as we’re putting away our winter clothes for the summer months – that the damage is being done. Once you see the moth it could be too late.

Here’s how to give your clothes the best chance of surviving being put away for the summer intact:

  • Never put away clothes that haven’t been cleaned. Moths love the smell of food and skin in clothes. Ideally, they should be dry cleaned as moths don’t like the smell of dry-cleaning fluid, but at the very least they should be laundered.
  • It’s worth steam pressing clothes before putting them away, even for short periods at this time of year as the steam will kill off odours. Get something like the Tefal steam generator iron, and this task will take a matter of minutes. Let the clothes air a little before putting them away.

  • (Even aside from the storage issue, a box steamer like this is a great tool as you can press a dress in seconds and a pair of trousers in a couple of minutes.)
  • Natural aromas that ward off moths include lavender and cedar – and there are vast numbers of products that introduce these into your wardrobe.
  • I prefer to use cotton bags rather than plastic ones for storage.  You can get plastic ones impregnated with anti-moth products, which are good, but I find they seem to attract dust.  I really like the storage bags from Total Wardrobe Care.


In fact, for a one-stop shop for storage and other clothes care, do take a look at the Total Wardrobe Care site.