In this week’s Sunday Times, a woman wrote in to the wonderfully witty Mrs Mills with the following conundrum:
My boyfriend loves Italian food, so we often eat in restaurants where it’s hard to avoid the pasta course. I am ruining loads of my clothes with little splashes of the ubiquitous tomato-based sauces. How can I stop these splashes?
This letter took me straight back to a sunny piazza in Rome, several years ago. Mr W and I were sitting in a small café, enjoying lunch and soaking up the sunshine on our last day in the city. Seated at the table next to us were two Italian men, who worked in the nearby parliamentary offices, enjoying a leisurely lunch hour (something that seems to have been lost forever in this country). We watched in awe (as surreptitiously as we could) as one of them tucked a pristine white linen napkin into the collar of his equally pristine white shirt, and proceeded to eat an enormous plate of spaghetti pomodoro. And, dear reader, not one splash of tomato soiled the napkin or the shirt. Not one.
Many of us secretly envy the Italians for their effortless style (well, I do). But this gentleman had more than style; he had manners, panache and most of all he had elegance. Elegance that went beyond his clothes – elegance that permeated his manners, his behaviour, his conversation.
I would love the British to reclaim elegance (we had it in years past). It has little to do with income, profession or social status. It is about caring how we present ourselves, how we behave in public, how we treat each other, and yes, it requires a bit of thought and effort. As Coco Chanel once said, ‘elegance comes from being as beautiful inside as outside’.
Fashion editors and style mavens regularly exhort us to create a capsule wardrobe (or ‘essential edit’) in order to achieve wardrobe nirvana. Yet for many of us this remains an elusive goal. The word ‘capsule’, of course, implies a relatively small number of items, and that’s the problem. Today we (women and men) have so many clothes that it is almost impossible to know where to start. I’ll happily admit that it’s taken about three years to achieve a fairly consistent colour palette in my own wardrobe, and yes, I am guilty of owning pieces that I never wear or that are ‘outfit orphans’ (they don’t go with anything else….)
Last week’s Stylist magazine reported that women spend about £4k a year on clothes, but yet wear only a small percentage (I wonder what the corresponding figure is for men ?). They cite the capsule wardrobe as the foundation of dressing ‘strategically’, alleviating weekday morning stress, preventing impulse or panic buying and saving you money. Many fashion insiders talk of wearing a ‘uniform’. Less scary than it sounds, this simply means wearing a ‘template’ of clothes in a specific colour palette, which they stick to closely. Why? For these women, the benefits are saving time, having clothes that ‘work harder’ for them and knowing their look is flattering and stylish.
How do you discover what works for you in the first place ? Where should your capsule start? I would advise you to tackle this in stages. It won’t happen overnight – and most mere mortals can’t afford to make it happen immediately ! A good first step is to ‘detox’ your wardrobe (see ‘my services’). It sorts the wheat from the chaff, as it were, enabling you to see what clothes you’ve got, to identify gaps needed to create outfits and it starts to reveal your style personality (for example, you may already have a predominant colour palette or ‘uniform’ of key pieces). From there, you can see what to discard, what to build on, and what your priority purchases should be.
Please contact me if you’d like help with detoxing your wardrobe, defining your ‘uniform’ or building your capsule collection.
After a mild September and a positively balmy October, there’s no escaping the fact that autumn is finally here.
I love autumn. To some it means ‘leaves on the line’, shorter days and lower temperatures, but to me it encompasses the promise of……great accessories. For it is in autumn that accessories really come into their own – scarves, gloves, sunglasses (for chilly but clear days), hats and socks all start to take vital supporting roles in our wardrobes.
And because these items are on show when we’re out and about, there’s no excuse for them not being as well thought out as your other items of clothing. In fact, they help pull together your look, creating polish and coherence.
I like to take a tonal approach to accessorising. My favourite hat, for example (hats are a fantastic way to inject individuality into your outfit) is a black and grey tweedy check. I aim for the majority of my outfit to tone in with this – either going for all grey or black – and then add a pop of colour with a bright red or pink glove or scarf.
Keep it simple. Keep the number of colours down. Add one key ‘pop’ of colour to add some zing. And remember the sage advice of the immortal Coco Chanel: ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.’
I was sitting in my favourite café, nursing a cappuccino and battling writer’s block, when a flash of leopard print caught my eye. A woman walked in wearing a fantastic leopard faux fur coat (neatly nailing two A/W 14 trends in one, I might add). This coat was subtle and elegant – which in itself was notable for animal print – without a trace of any Bet Lynch fluffiness or bulkiness. It was smooth and sleek, with a sparse leopard spot, a silk lining and princess sleeves. An understated showstopper, if you like.
Statement coats are once again a focal point this autumn/winter, and a piece like this would be a welcome addition to any stylish woman’s wardrobe. The styling options abound: draped over a fine knit black polo neck and trousers (or skinnies) for the weekend, or providing the finishing touch to a sharp white shirt, black skirt and heels for work. The key (as with all animal print and most faux fur) is to keep the rest of the outfit simple and uncluttered.
It turns out that the woman in question had bought the coat about 15 years ago in a vintage shop in L.A. for the princely sum of $10 !!! Although I have pointed out in previous posts that fashion moves ever faster, sometimes you can find pieces that are truly timeless. Animal print returns again and again. As does faux fur. The key of course is the quality of the cut and fabric.
As a newcomer to Brighton, I am astounded by the number of vintage and second hand clothes shops the city has to offer. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to find as lovely a coat – I live in hope.
Two local favourites:
Hybrid Boutique for quirky vintage pieces (follow the lovely Natalie at @hybrid_ boutique for details of pop-ups and events)
The Dressing Room, 75 Trafalgar Street, Brighton BN1 (@dressingroomBN1)