Saturday 28th November would be my beloved grandmother Mary’s 104th birthday. She came from a solidly middle class background; her father worked in insurance, and she grew up in a modest house in Darlington, County Durham. She was not underprivileged in any way, but neither was she spoilt or over-indulged. Looking at what she and her generation owned and the clothes they wore, we would think they were completely deprived.
People didn’t have a lot of clothes back then, and World War II obviously had a major impact. When I was a child in the 1970s, I remember Mary having about 10 day dresses, 5 pairs of shoes, some knitwear (Marks & Spencer’s St Michael label, of course), blouses and two coats. That was it. Clothes were mended and recycled, darned and remade, and worn and worn again.
My grandfather Egan’s wartime letters to Mary reveal a bit about how people really did ‘make do and mend’ and how precious and exciting it was when they acquired something new.
In April 1945 he writes: ‘I read with great interest of all your activities: sun-bathing in an easy chair, dashing about the house, going out in a scarlet frock and black coat – edge to edge style – and looking a perfect picture. Do I get browned off out here, so far away from my pin-up girl, oh boy, do I get browned off!’ (Don’t you just love the language?)
In September 1945 Egan was about to be demobbed, and was facing a bit of a clothes crisis himself: ‘The position regarding clothes-coupons is rather precarious now, isn’t it? I shall have to try and get a suit made for myself as soon as possible, for even with the outfit I’ll get on demobbing I shan’t be too well off with suits: the one I used to wear when on leave is threadbare by now.’
What would they make of our bulging wardrobes, filled with things we hardly ever wear? Is your wardrobe in need of a ‘detox’?
Last week I had the privilege of meeting Beryl, a stylish, confident and outgoing woman. Beryl has short blonde hair, wears funky round glasses, and accessorises like a pro. Best of all, Beryl is eighty.
She loves life, and dressing well helps her retain her joie de vivre. She adores people, and will talk to anyone (hence our meeting, as I’m very much the same). I loved her positivity, her loquaciousness, and most of all I loved her sense of style.
Beryl travels, and shops, widely – anything from H&M to high end. She knows how to tie a scarf to best effect, how to wear black (or grey), how to keep it chic and simple. She understands fabric and texture, and how to add interest to any look. Beryl despairs of ‘granny perms’ and implores her older friends and neighbours not to fall into that trap. She told me, ‘I ask them (usually over a glass or two) why they don’t wear their hair differently, why don’t they care about what they wear, why don’t they smile?’
When I met Beryl she was wearing her grey round glasses, a black textured scarf wound tightly around her throat, a black coat and black patent ankle boots. She was carrying a Sonia Rykiel bag, and was searching for the perfect black v-neck for layering, which I helped her find. In turn, she helped me find the perfect grey beret.
Beryl intuitively understands that style is about much more than what you wear – it’s how you present yourself to the world and it reflects how you approach life – and it has absolutely nothing to do with age.
Age and experience are often overlooked in our youth-obsessed world. This month, legendary fashion titan Karl Lagerfeld will be presented, at the age of 82, with the Outstanding Achievement Award at the British Fashion Awards in recognition of his ‘unrivalled contribution to the fashion industry’. And it truly is unrivalled.
Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg in 1933 and educated privately and in Paris. His career began when he was hired to assist Pierre Balmain, after winning a design competition in 1955. In 1958, he moved to Jean Patou, designing two collections a year for the next five years, and began freelancing at Chloe in 1964. Since 1983 he has, of course, been creative director at Chanel, although his career has been multifacted. Lagerfeld has worked as a photographer (V, German Vogue, Harpers Bazaar), theatrical costume designer, publisher and art director. At the age of 82, he shows no sign of slowing down (why should he) and he still designs for Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous label. He is a living example of how age and experience can amount to great things.
Natalie Massenet MBE, Chairman of the British Fashion Council, commented on the award by saying, ‘Karl Lagerfeld defines outstanding. He is the champion of excellence, the master of the exceptional and one of the most iconic figures globally from our industry.’
Previous winners of the Outstanding Achievement Award include: Anna Wintour OBE (2014), Terry and Tricia Jones (2013) and Manolo Blahnik CBE (2012).
One of my new year fashion resolutions for 2015 was this: I will buy a new winter coat before the end of November when all the best ones are gone. Well here we are in November….
It’s tricky, because last year I barely wore a winter coat. Our recent series of mild wet winters have meant that I’ve relied on judicious layering rather than any serious coat investment.
But recent press reports have predicted that we’re due for 100 days of snow this winter – reminiscent of the brutal winters of 1963 and 1947 (not that I was there, you understand). So it might finally be time to take the plunge.
Thankfully there is a wide variety of interesting options available this autumn/winter, including the cocoon, wool wrap and my personal favourite, the cape. Here’s the lowdown:
- The cocoon – with or without a collar, great for striking an androgynous pose with a white shirt, black skinnies and brogues. Take inspiration from Jigsaw with their beautiful textured boucle coat, or Ted Baker’s ombre version in two colourways
- The trench – a timeless classic, great for warding off the autumn chill before winter really sets in. Go classic – double breasted in taupe or beige, (or perhaps dark green at Ted Baker) or think soft suede a la Zara. A Burberry trench is, of course, a failsafe English-made classic and a real investment piece
- The wool wrap – this year the classic wool coated is belted with no buttons, in soft taupe or caramel tones. Max Mara’s Goloso is the ultimate version in gorgeous camel hair if your budget allows…. The Fold also do a lovely belted claret version
- The cape – capes are a great way to play with shape and proportion, and are particularly dramatic worn over evening wear or layered over fine knits and skinny jeans. This season they are striped or checked, textured or embellished, fur trimmed or jewelled, but I love the simplicity of the ‘Vickiye’ taupe wool cape by Ted Baker and Reiss’ wool blend ‘Cavalier’ in navy. The length varies too – short and boxy (above the hip) or longer line (similar to a coat or long jacket length)
Make sure you consider your lifestyle, existing wardrobe and your commute before you make a final decision on a coat. It is, after all, a fairly significant wardrobe investment that you will want to wear for several years to come.