Archive for the 'Women at the top' Category

‘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.

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Could it be that the Royal Family is leading us into a new era of style?

I promised myself at the time that I wasn’t going to write about the Royal Wedding – every aspect of it has been written about in so much detail that I couldn’t imagine it would be useful to add more here.

But it’s looking to me like the style choices of Kate and Carole Middleton for the big event could herald a more general shift in attitudes to style among British women.  I’ve been travelling quite a lot in the past couple of weeks and for the first time that I can remember, people are complimenting British women (well, two British women anyway) on the way they chose to dress in public.

I talk and write a lot about Personal Confident Style, and I have to say that the bride and, in particular, her mother got it exactly right – they clearly had excellent and highly experienced advice and wore clothes that fit and suited them perfectly, accentuating the body. You could tell that despite the scale of the occasion they knew they looked great.

I predict that in the coming years we’re going to see British women looking more confident and assured in their own personal style. Even on big occasions it will be increasingly acceptable not to walk around in ‘Garden Party’-style floaty, fluffy, floral bits of fabric and to start to look more elegant and desirable.

Women will continue to need good advice and to take some care over how they look; but as more role models appear this will become more of a norm. I’m optimistic that we’re going to see a new generation taking us forward to a new era of modern classic style in British fashion.

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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.

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Samantha Cameron’s M&S dress and the devaluation of women

So Samantha Cameron’s £65 M&S dress is back in the news.  Apparently, she was only able to get hold of it because of a personal contact with Stuart Rose, the retailer’s CEO.

This story rankled with me when it came out earlier in the month – and even more so now.  What rankles is that it seems to be one rule for men and another for women.

According to the press, David Cameron buys his suits at Richard James in Saville Row (where prices start around £1000) – and nobody bats an eyelid.  It is expected – after all he wants to rub shoulders with the world’s leaders.

Yet Samantha Cameron is praised because she wears – to a hugely important occasion – a £65 dress from a high street chain (albeit the quintessentially British one).

And, nice though it was for the money, the people with whom she presumably wants to be rubbing shoulders will absolutely know where it has come from – even without the press hype.

Does it increase Cameron’s electability.  I can’t believe it does. I for one don’t want whoever is first lady mixing with Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni looking (and, whatever you’d like to believe, she will be feeling it) like the poor relation.

The whole episode is symptomatic of another English tradition: frowning on women who make an effort to look like they belong in a position of responsibility, like they are successful; effectively putting them down in a way which takes their confidence away and leads them to devalue themselves.

I see this so often with my customers: they’ll not go for a job they could do well because the salary is too high and they don’t think they would get it – because they don’t think anyone would pay them that much.

Judged by their male peers for being mumsy; praised by the British press for not making an effort to look the part; it’s no wonder that British women don’t know which way to turn.

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Rant: what is the fashion press for?

Having recently come back from a buying trip in Milan where everyone is talking about tailoring and classic modern styling, I’m looking at magazine and newspaper coverage here in the UK and it’s frankly exasperating.

Journalists are criticising the Italian catwalks as being flippant and un-commercial (albeit while praising them for their beautiful fabrics).  Yet, looking at the pictures, there is hardly a tailored piece in sight. And when they do show what they think is tailoring, it’s something that nobody over the age of 25 could wear.

There are beautiful tailored clothes available if you know where to look for them (even if the catwalks are dominated by magazine picture fodder). You’d think that fashion journalists would be seeking to discover clothes that their readers could wear.  It seems to me that the photography is dominating the clothes and the photography is all about art not about style.

What is it that has happened to the fashion press that has made it impossible for fashion editors to co-ordinate their editorial with the photographs.

The resurgence of elegant style, what the Italians call “buongusto”, is happening anyway: amid the doom and gloom, Wardrobe has had one of its best seasons ever because our buy did reflect what the journalists were saying, but didn’t have to worry about what sells magazines; and also because our stylists do the job that the fashion press should be doing better – showing women how to put together a modern, edgily classic style rather than criticising the clothes in the photos they decide to publish.

Rant over.

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Excellent comment piece about fashion in The Times – now if the fashion editors could just follow it up with some useful advice…

This article (Blame Darwinism, we are all fashionistas) from The Times Comment pages describes a self-confessed anti-fashion bluestocking’s sudden realisation that what you wear matters and that her rejection of fashion as being “brain food for the vapid and intellectually stunted” was wrong-headed.

Obviously, I think it’s well worth a read because it echoes what I’ve been saying for decades – and in fact in this post (Why the UK doesn’t have a Michelle Obama) a few months back.

At the end of the piece the author fears that:

“having eschewed fashion and excessive grooming for so long, I fear I am too lazy and ignorant to live by my new-found respect for fashion and its devotees.  My only hope is to become fashionable by mistake. If the next big look is unkempt plumpness, I will be a style goddess.”

Obviously, she won’t become fashionable or stylish by mistake.  She needs professional advice.  And part of the reason that serious women don’t know how (or think it important) to put together a look which doesn’t make them look frivolous is that the fashion press (including The Times) rarely show clothes that the average woman can wear.

And more than that they don’t show women how to use clothes to camouflage the ‘plumpness’ and other imperfections that reduce a woman’s confidence and leads them to see fashion as frivolous and too difficult.

It’d be great if the style/fashion editors were to read this comment piece and see in it a reason to help the generations of British women who no longer have the ability to put together a confident, serious and successful personal style.

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Getting on board for the right reasons

Interesting piece on CNN today referring to research that showed that women make up less than 12% of FTSE 100 boards.

The reason according to the researcher was not that women lacked the skills – but that they looked like they lacked them.  According to the research, when there is only one woman on the board, she is very often regarded as only able to deal with women’s issues; when there are two women, they are often seen to as competition for each other; three is the critical number to get to.

With 12% of board representation in total, there can’t be many boards with three women on them.

How important then for women to ensure that they do look as though they belong in the boardroom.  Which means that they need to pay attention to their appearance – to ensure that they look successful, international and approachable – there as a board member, not as a woman.

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One reason there is a lack of women in David Cameron’s top team. Part 2

You’ve probably guessed that I think that one reason there are few women in David Cameron’s top team is the way the women – at least in the picture The Times used to illustrate their article – presented themselves.

 

The picture may or may not be a fair representation of the individual styles of the women in the photo – but the contrast between them and the men is striking.

 

Often when I say this kind of thing, I get quite a lot of flack.  Some people think I’m suggesting that clothes, rather than talent, make the woman and that I’m somehow anti-feminist.  Others think I’m suggesting that everybody should be spending well beyond their means on very expensive clothes.

Neither of these is remotely true.

My guess is that the women are at least as talented as the men.  But they look neither as confident nor as successful.  Dressed as they are there they simply don’t look ready for the world – or even national – stage.

My experience is that people know when they don’t look the way they’d like to; and this knowledge has an impact on their confidence; and that low confidence shows itself in the way they carry themselves; and the way they carry themselves is picked up on by the people they meet.

I’ve worked with hundreds of women who have become successful in their field before I got involved.  They’ve come in to Wardrobe because, despite their success (or even because of it as they mix with new and unfamiliar people who are making judgements about them), they realise that they can’t go on feeling unconfident in their style.

For politicians, it’s even more important.  Every time they face the public, every time they sit down to negotiate with other people, they are on show, on stage.  In this country, we are brought up to think that spending time on ensuring we look good is frivolous.  I disagree.  I believe that, since we know people will make at least first judgements according to how we look, then before we go ‘on stage’ we should look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we look credible.

Knowing that we look credible and feel attractive builds confidence – and it’s that confidence that creates the kind of presence that can have impact when you enter a room.  I want to empower women – even politicians – to feel good about themselves.

The best thing about my job is when women – and some of them have been politicians – come with trepidation into the shop looking like wet lettuces and, with a bit of attention to hair, make-up and clothes, leave the shop gushing with gratitude.

Of course, the last thing a politician wants is to be seen to be spending a fortune of expensive clothes; and being a politician – certainly on the way up – is not exactly well paid.

But if you can learn how to put together your own style, you won’t spend more on clothes.  You’ll spend more per piece, but you’ll buy fewer pieces.  You’ll buy better quality clothes which will last longer. If you get professional advice, you’ll make fewer mistakes.  If you avoid the big brands and focus just on the cut and the cloth, you’ll avoid paying for the marketing and people won’t even consider what you’ve spent – they’ll just feel your presence as you ooze confidence.

My mission is to build women’s confidence, not knock it.  It is hard for women as they age and their body shape changes.  But if women want to be at the top table, it would be good to start by looking like they belong there. 

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One reason there is a lack of women in David Cameron’s top team. Part 1

There is a clue in The Times’ photographs of the women flanking Cameron in 2006 and the men flanking him at the party’s spring conference this year.

Can you guess what it is?

 

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Why the UK doesn’t have a Michelle Obama

In an article in The Sunday Times last week, Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue was quoted as being frustrated that “you can’t get a politician into Vogue because there is a fear that being in fashion makes you frivolous.” And she adds that “In the US and France it’s more egalitarian; it’s fine for everyone to be interested in looking good.”

The article, entitled Why doesn’t the UK have a Michelle Obama?, was about how women in the political spotlight influence fashion trends.  Its central theme was that Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the French President’s wife (representing US and European ‘politicas’) know how to dress and British ones don’t.

It’s a theme I’ve been talking (and trying to do something) about since the 1970s, so it’s hard to disagree with the argument.  And the article is a good read.

But I can’t help feeling that these journalists are simply writing about the problem, when they and the media in general could and should be part of the solution.

If British women in the political (or business) spotlight don’t know how to dress, it’s because for several decades they’ve had pretty much no-one to show them how to do the “all-purpose savoir fair” of Mme Sarkozy.

And it’s a gap which I think the fashion press could easily do a better job of filling.

Professional British women think they’re being frivolous when they spend money on clothes because our magazines – even the best ones and even when they’re doing features on how to dress for work – mostly show clothes that most professional women over 35 or bigger than a size 12 could not wear for work without looking ridiculous.  So they’re simply not catered for unless they want to buy a boring suit from one of the usual suspects.

It hasn’t always been this way.  England in the 1950s was one of the most stylish places to be – excellent tailoring, classic styling.  But in the 1960s, when more women started to go to university, an idea took hold that intelligent women didn’t need to look good.  A reverse snobbery emerged, mostly among people who did go to university, where they didn’t have to bother about appearance.  And the attitude remained as they entered the workplace.

Meanwhile, there was the swinging sixties style of the likes of Biba and Mary Quant.   Europeans came to London, loved the slightly androgynous, carefree Carnaby Street style, but they didn’t wear it all the time.

Understandably the media took this up.  But they’ve never let it go (after all, most of our media are now run by people who grew up in the sixties – or after).  And partly as a result, British women have largely lost the ability confidently to put together a personal style that looks successful without looking flashy.

I agree that if you’re in a position of power – whether a politician, lawyer, accountant, or any other professional role – it’s your duty to look good; and I believe that most people prefer to see someone in a position of responsibility looking confident and successful (and that’s successful, not flashy) because they instinctively feel that if you’re confident and successful you might be able to help them.

And I think that goes for our fashion press too.  They have a duty to be more geared towards helping British women achieve that savoir faire; to finding out what really works for businesswomen, ‘politicas’ and anyone else who is serious about creating an effective personal style.

And then once they’ve achieved that , to stop knocking them down for looking confident and successful.

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