Getting the basics right

Isn’t it funny how the things that come naturally to us, like being able to draw, or cook, or sew, are the things that we take for granted.  Sometimes we don’t really realise that we have a skill at all because it comes so easily.  Try asking someone who is good at art how they manage to draw and they just brush it off with a quick – ” I don’t know really, it just happens”.  Not much of an explanation to someone who couldn’t draw Bod, even if she tried.   However we are really aware of the things that we find difficult and a challenge.  Take me and technology – true, things are getting better and gradually the fog is lifting, but even getting this blog off the ground has been a challenge.  So, I just wanted to say “thank you” to all of those lovely people out there in “blog land” who have helped me when I have been close to tearing my hair out (and to my daugher’s 11 year old friend who helped me too – what a star!) 

For those of you who find putting a wardrobe together the equivalent of my technological inadequacy, maybe I can help you to find your way.  What always amazes me is the lack of practical advice out there.  I see people write into magazines asking for help in locating, say, a dress – perhaps a full length dress for a beach wedding with budget of £150.  The answer can often bear no relation to the question asked. Quite often the suggestion is to “blow the budget” on a designer number.  What’s all that about – if the person had a £300 budget they wouldn’t be writing in for advice in  the first place now would they?  They would just have gone to Selfridges or Harvey Nichols and sorted it quick smart.  Also, have you notice how every answer comes back with the line “and don’t forget the killer heels.”  The final nail in the coffin if ever there was one, especially if you have children in tow.

It’s the same with adverts for the designers.  Personally, I love the Chloe advert – all camel trousers, pale silk shirt and high heels.  Now how does that translate to every day life with a rug rat in tow?  Huh, tell me that!  I would love to see a model going down the catwalk with a toddler in tow, sticky fingers, runny nose and so on and let’s face it, that’s where a lot of us are.  We are also in and out of the car or walking to the bus, in and out of the rain (a brolly and a puschair are just impossible to negotiate), up and down the stairs, round and round the garden like a teddy bear, or so it feels.  Not for one minute am I saying that having children means that you should ignore your wardrobe and resign yourself to wearing nothing but old clobber but let’s face it, there are limitations within which we have to work.

So, what is the answer when we want to look stylish but have a family to contend with?  Let’s add into the mix that small children and accessories of the necklace/chunky ring/bangle/belt with buckle variety don’t really mix and it seems as though we consigned to a life of baggy jeans, trainers and t-shirts.  Well, you know what, on a day to day basis we more or less probably are, but we can do it in a stylish way.  Before I start though, I should just say that no one has paid me anything to say nice things about their clothes and they are really only used to give ideas and guidance – but I would be more than happy to wear any of them!

Take the jeans – jeans aren’t to be knocked.  If they are good enough for cowboys they are good enough for Mums.  OK, so cowboys get to spend most of their working life sitting down, whereas Mums would like to, but jeans are hardwearing, practical and reasonably priced. If everyone wore the right size and shape jeans in the right colour,  the world (and in particular soft play areas) would be a much more attractive place.  Everyone should ditch those pale, washed out too loose jeans that reveal too much when they bend down and replace them with a dark pair of bootcut jeans that fit.  It can take a little time to find the right pair but they are out there.  Try to get some that fit without a belt so that a belt can be worn as an accessory, maybe over a cardigan and at waist height, rather than as a means of holding one’s jeans up.  The ones that I have found to be most successful for my clients, and the most reasonably priced, are from Gap. Hobbs also has a great pair of dark bootleg ones that somehow seem to fit everyone and for those who have a much smaller waist than hips, the high waisted ones from Next avoid that gaping issue at the back. As an alternative to jeans, look to the Zara basic range for navy or black cotton trousers in a variety of cuts.  The price is good, they are machine washable but do expect to go up a size. 

As for tops, there are nice tops out there that cater for a less than flat tummy, or arms that are a little heavier than we might like.  They don’t have to look like oversized men’s t-shirts though.  Try a stripe, print or colour

for variety and try a longer length top layered under a shorter cardigan for a different look.  These tops are  from Jigsaw and tick the boxes of being something other than black.  They also create a drape effect over a less than flat tummy.

Try to make knitwear interesting.  Work in some colour for variety and look out for cheaper cashmere.  Contrary to popular belief it responds well to washing and is far softer and warmer than you might think.  Many of the Supermarkets sell reasonably priced cashmere.  Or try a wrap top cardigan, or put your cardigan on back to front – buttons down the back can look very stylish. Just experiment even within the realms of the simple basic jeans, top and jumper to see how many variations on a theme you can create.  All of the knitwear below comes from the Boden catalogue and comes in a wide range of sizes and colours.  Their customer service is always great too and with offers constantly running you won’t ever have to pay full price for anything.

Boden breton tunic

In relation to footwear – look a little further afield than trainers.  Converse style trainers are practical and come in a good range of colours and prints.  The leather ones are also starting to come into the shops now and these are slightly more practical. These velvet ones from Boden are lovely and they also do leather ones too, in a variety of colours.

A brown biker boot can look great with jeans and dresses alike and will last years if kept well polished – they also tend to have a very slight heel and so can take away from that “dumpy” feeling that completely flat boots give.  The ones shown below are from Boden and also come in brown. M&S does a good range of smart riding/biker style boots in the winter and the fact that they also come in half sizes and a wider fitting is a real bonus.

When it comes to coats, it is too easy to go for the black or brown option, thinking that they will go with everything.  I have found that people always compliment a bright coat, especially in the dark winter months and a brighter coat is a great way to lift an otherwise fairly plain outfit.  This peony one from Crew below is no exception.  The pea coat style is a classic and will therefore never date.  Its length means that it can be worn with dresses, skirts or trousers and this colour will also go well with black and navy.  As an alternative for more challenging weather, the biker jacket/waxed jacket is both practical and stylish.  Being waterproof and warm it ticks the boxes for less than favourable weather conditions but because it is fitted and belted it still gives some shape.

Now we all know that capes are going to be big this winter.  For now I like this Laura Ashley version.  It is cotton and has a nod towards the trench coat.  For the colder weather, Warehouse has a reasonably priced black one and Cos has a camel  one.  Of course the other coat which will be “big” this season is the camel coat.  Whilst I do love camel and it can look incredibly chic, it can be draining against a fair complexion, especially in the winter, so just keep an eye out for that when trying one on.

If you haven’t really embraced accessories before and don’t know where to start, I have included a couple of suggestions below.  The ikat print scarf is from Boden and comes in a variety of colours.  If you aren’t used to prints, this is a good place to start – it is subtle but on trend and being 100% wool offers warmth without being bulky.  Both of the belts are from Jigsaw.  The patent one is smart without feeling as if you are going to work and the detail on the plaited one is pretty.  Also because it is soft there is nothing for small children to catch themselves on and if you don’t like the feeling of a belt around your waist, because this is so soft it may well solve that problem for you.

Now, whilst this post is all about the practical, there has to be a least a little space for the desirable (and not so practical).  I love these shoe boots from Jigsaw – the little frill is cute without being too girly and they would look great with an edgy dress.  As for the necklace?  I think that it is fair to say that the jewellery in Jigsaw has had its ups and downs but this season they seem to have nailed it and, sad as it may seem, my heart did skip a beat on seeing this one.  I hope that this post offers some guidance on how to dress stylishly but within the limits so many of us have to work – let me know how you get on.



  1. FortyNotOut
    August 27, 2010 / 4:27 pm

    Hi Beth! Loved all these pieces.. and especially that Boden tunic! I know what you mean about the practical element, although I'm finding the older SC gets the easier it gets to combine with the more stylish pieces. Love Gap jeans… always a favourite! xx

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