Archive for the 'Style Dilemmas' Category

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.




Doing your colours? Makes me see red!

In a comment to a previous post, I’ve been asked for advice on “prescribed” personal ideal colours for clothes and makeup and the use of specific colour swatches used by a number of style consultants.

I thought this worth its own post as I’m asked about this at pretty much every workshop I do. And I have to say it’s a particular bête noire for me. I believe the approach is simplistic and most often taught by people who do not have enough experience working with women and fabrics.

Telling people on the basis of holding up a single piece of blue cotton next to a person’s face that blue either suits them or doesn’t is just silly. A blue in velvet, a blue in silk, a blue in cotton, wool or any number of modern fabrics will look different. Is it a yellow-based blue or a pink-based blue – the base hues have a massive effect.

To my mind there is only one way that the appropriateness of a colour can be judged for a human being: and that is when the actual person is presented with a specific garment in a specific colour.

Every time someone comes into Wardrobe with their colours done, we have to ask them to forget it and work with us because every single one has been wrong or at least far too limiting.

I remember one time a woman came into the shop dressed head to toe in aquamarine – I mean literally every garment and accessory was aquamarine. Her colourist had told her that it was her best colour. It took me more than a year to persuade her to throw away her book of colours.

It is true that there is a basic link (for Caucasian skins at least) between skin colouring and the colour of clothes you should choose. Pretty much everyone has either a pink tone or a yellow/golden tone – and these are the only two you need to consider. I have a yellow base to my skin and look terrible in any fabric with a base tone of pink.

But it’s hard to tell ‘as a rule’ whether particular colours will work for you as different tints can work at subtly different levels.  In my opinion, you are more likely to make mistakes approaching your choices by following hard and fast rules, rather than looking at each garment’s colour/cloth combination with the advice of an experienced salesperson or stylist.


Don’t trip over this season’s longer skirt lengths

It appears that skirts are getting longer for next season and it’s a trend that is likely to continue.

For some body shapes and some skirt shapes this can look great.  But it requires a lot of care. Much of what is coming into fashion can look dangerously mumsy or fancy dress-like.

This length is all about proportions. To avoid getting it wrong, you need to be sure that there is enough space between your ankle and the hem of the skirt. If your height is mostly in your torso, long skirts need careful appraisal and alteration to get the length right for you.  One way is to not to wear a skirt that is mid-calf, but instead to choose one that is just below the knee and taper it which gives the effect of a longer skirt, but doesn’t foreshorten the bottom part of your leg.

In summer, I think this quite a difficult look unless the skirt is pencil slim and you’re wearing a high heel; and in winter, in my opinion, unless you have been blessed with good legs, it looks better with boots with a small heel. 

As I’m working on collections a year ahead, I can see that the trouser suit is making a big comeback and I think one reason for this is that it is a safer option than the dilemma that a lot of women face over the length of their skirts. 

Nevertheless, from what I’ve seen on my travels, the skirt that is the most successful falls just below the knee and is gently tapered. And for optimum chic, the knee does need to be covered for this summer and next winter.


Your clothes aren’t better the second time around

At this time of year, I often hear “I have a dress which is 20 years old but seems to be back in fashion”. This is particularly relevant this season, as some of the styles are reminiscent of the 80s.


Don’t even think about wearing it.


Because the problem is that nothing really comes back exactly the same but most importantly neither have you. The dress may not have changed that much BUT you have. Wearing clothes you bought 20 years ago will really date you and I truly believe giving it to a daughter/niece/friend will be a much better idea! Sometimes the trendiest clothes on “women of a certain age” age them more than they realise.


Why you should get over the rainbow

I’ve noticed lately that several fashion journalists of a certain age are telling their readers of a certain age to steer clear of beige and classic neutrals and wear bright colours. I think this advice is wrong – or at least incomplete.

They argue that as you get older you should think about wearing bright colours because they are fun and a more bold appearance will get you noticed.  This may be so, but there is a danger of being noticed for the wrong reasons; of looking like you’re trying too hard to look younger rather than being your confident self.

In general, unless you are buying very high quality fabrics, neutral colours look more expensive and suit older skin tones much better than the brights.  You’re much better off, as I advise with the capsule wardrobe for everyone, to stick to neutrals for your main pieces and do the colourful creativity bit with accessories.  This way your clothes also won’t date so quickly.

Having said that if you are able to afford the better fabrics there are shades of the stronger colours which look amazing. In this respect, colour and fabric are inextricably linked and there are many shades of the same colour.

I’ve just returned from my buying trip in Milan and I didn’t see many strong colours in the shops with the exception of the mass market stores or stores that use very expensive fabrics and are able to show subtle shades of red, blue, amethyst etc. Make these colours in cheaper fabrics and they will look cheap.

What colours do I recommend? This season start with a grey (there are many different shades), green or navy and use a scarf or maybe a sweater in cashmere, cashmere/silk or a top quality merino wool to bring in a dash of colour – perhaps a burgundy, blush, blue or amethyst.

Building your individual confident style will get you noticed in a much more positive way than trying to look younger with bright, cheap-looking colours which will actually date you more.

Put another way, getting over the rainbow, will stop you looking over the hill.


Camel: a clarification… and some counsel

Since I last posted – about the lack of camel in this winters collections – I’ve been taking a good look at the September issues of many of the UK and US fashion magazines and, to my surprise, most have got some kind of feature that seems to be falling over camel as a key colour this season.

As I buyer, this surprised me, not just because camel was so prominent in West End shops last year, but also because there is not that much camel around at the top end of  the market this year. 

And in fact, much of what is described as camel actually isn’t camel at all. It seems quite often to be used as a shorthand for a variety of neutrals (one of which is the yellowy camel). But the dominant neutrals this winter – and those which flatter a north European skin in winter are those with a hint of grey rather than yellow.

I think you should be quite careful about buying camel colour clothes – for some people it does work very well, but in general camel, because it is VERY classic, can really age you unless it is accessorised very carefully.  Certainly putting it with brown risks looking boringly classic.

Camel is also used by designers not used to creating modern classics – precisely because it is associated with classic.  But I believe that in 2010, if you are going to use camel it needs to be designed and cut superbly in a soft fabric (to avoid it looking too flat) or it will very quickly date you.

At Wardrobe, in a very good start to the season, the most successful colours have been various shades of grey (of which there are many) and other neutrals which have a predominance of a blush tone to them – but the yellowy ones have not even been requested.


A summer blusher solution

A Confidence Tricks reader sent me an email this week asking for a recommendation on a summer blusher.  She was concerned that using a poweder blusher with a tan looks odd.

Personally I think its much better to use a bronzing powder than a blusher in the summer. Until recently, the one I liked best was by Armani.

However, I am now sold on the Bare Minerals cosmetic collection of mineral powders – and they have a blusher powder as part of their concept. With this mineral powder blusher you can build the colour you want gradually as the powder is so light. This brand is also recommended for women with very sensitive skin.

They also have a powder sunscreen which is for the body – a great idea and non greasy for townies.

Really worth exploring. Available in Selfridges and I believe John Lewis.

I think, so far, this is my favourite for summer.


Another alternative to Naked legs

A couple of weeks ago I recommended Wolford’s Naked8 tights as  a good sheer alternative to bare legs at work in the summer.  This week I bought two different styles which I prefer, one is called Luxe9, the other Aura5.  I think they are a better fit.  Just thought you might like to know.


Style dilemma: Tights vs bare legs in the summer

As the temperature heats up, clients regularly ask for advice on the question of whether it’s OK to not wear tights in the office.  We’re all tempted to lose them when the temperature goes above 20 degrees.

My view is that a senior woman not wearing tights in the office tends to look unprofessional because very few women over a certain age have unblemished legs.

I think about it in the same terms as a man not wearing socks.

If you want to find something reasonably cool to wear, Wolford do a very nice sandal toe tight that is very sheer – called Naked 8 (pictured below). They are lightweight but quite durable if you wash them carefully – and a very good standby when the weather gets very hot.


What to wear when travelling – the grand tour

With the sun streaming in through the window for two days in a row, thoughts turn to holidays. On the Fashion Forum, E asked for advice on what to wear for a bit of a ‘grand tour’ driving/sightseeing holiday, so here is an update on the travelling capsule.

Last year, I wrote about how to achieve a versatile wardrobe for a weekend away .

The advice in that post still stands: what you are aiming for is what I call Comfort Chic.  So check back to it and then read on here for the update.

If you’re travelling around at this time of year, you’ll need a lightweight summer coat. A classic navy blue blazer is very in at the moment. Or you might go for an edgy twinset, sweater or summer jacket like the ones pictured below.


Any of these can be worn with jeans or any narrow trousers in beige or white – well cut stretch fabrics are best if you’re going to be sitting down a lot – and with sneakers (check out Tod’s for a great range), a summer boot or a comfy flat or kitten heel shoe as shown below.


Add in some nice T-shirts – probably long-sleeved at this time of year; and a scarf, either a gauzy cashmere if it’s going to be cold, or linen for a warmer climate. Make sure the scarf has lots of fabric to soften the neckline of a mannishly cut blazer.

To finish off ad a nice big bangle and simple stylish bag for carrying around the daily necessities.


You might also take a look at my What to Wear When Travelling post from last year, which was mostly about flying, but most of which also applies if you’re driving around.