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Time for a bourse

The urge for a clothes swap is upon me.

Well, it's definitely autumn now, isn't it? The weather fell off a cliff yesterday, as if someone had thrown a switch. Not so much in temperatures as in rain, and the wind picking up. It's been a remarkably still summer, with almost nothing in the way of wind, and I'd forgotten how quickly it strips the heat out of the house. Plus there is that sound - the wind lashing in the trees, the crows the only birds to be heard. 

It means I'm gradually washing and putting away my summer linens - with some regret, I must admit - and that makes me think of a bourse, or clothes swap.

I haven't held a bourse since April, though there was one in July that I missed, due to ill health, and for most of us here the summer is very busy with visitors, running gites or animals to look after, so we have not seen each other much lately. But this change of season when you pack away your summer things and get out the heavier clothes is a good opportunity to reassess your wardrobe and your clothing needs, and it's a good excuse for a get-together too.

As aforementioned, I had already done an edit of my clothes for the coming autumn, and shoved a load of clothes (two thirds, at a guess) into an 'also ran' pile. So last night, I went through that pile and sorted it into keepers and chuckers. The stuff to chuck, it is galling to admit, is nearly all mistakes - things I tried that just didn't work like the floral shirts I bought last year, things I ordered that turned out to be the wrong shape or too bright a colour and which I lacked the energy to send back, or - a real problem for me - teeshirts that were fine for one or two wearings but which then shrank so much in length in the wash that they're no longer wearable.

Do all busty women have this problem with teeshirts? I have the Devil's own job getting them long enough to go over my boobs. Many times I buy a tee that seems fine, but once it loses a bit of elasticity in the wash, it ends up at my high hip, whence it proceeds to walk up to stomach level as soon as I move - not a look I am interested in. If they're long enough, they're usually too baggy - an issue I've found with Lands' End, where I like the quality but can't find a cut I like. I'm desperate for Finisterre to get back in their tees in charcoal and black for winter, as they are 27 inches long and quite clingy - perfect for my hourglass shape - and they actually stay put, though at £45 a pop, they are a serious investment.

Within an hour I'd bagged up 60 garments for the bourse and I haven't even started on the winter clothing yet. Here, I had intended to do the Euromayenne fair again, as I have three times in the past, but when I emailed to book a stall I was told rather snottily that I wouldn't be allowed to sell secondhand clothing. Frankly, I think that's a bit rich, given the general poverty of this area, where average wages are 12,000 euros a year, so I guess that means a whole load of photographing and sticking stuff on Ebay and trekking to the post office. But c'est comme ça. If my Aquascutum, Jaegar and Austin Reed aren't good enough, then bollocks to them. 

A couple of my old furs, I have in mind to send to the costume museum at Bath as they are good examples of their day, with the 1930s techniques of fur stranding etc. And the rest, into the bourse they go.  

Meanwhile, my closets are looking, if not empty, at least not packed to the gills any more, and everything suddenly goes with everything else, which can't be bad.  


Swings and roundabouts

Boy, have I made some mistakes in purchases lately. But on the other hand, I've had some successes.

I thought I'd quickly review a couple of the clothing purchases I've made lately, because to tell the truth, not all of them came off. It's always a bit diff when you have to buy mail-order, but locally, there's almost nothing available except cheap shit in shopping chains like Kiabi, or very expensive items from individual boutiques. 

M&S lace knickers

First up, the lovely lace knickers I ordered from M&S. When these turned up, I could see straight away that they weren't going to fit. I am normally a size 14 in knickers - I could get into a 12 but I like a bit of ease - but with the 14 in these, I had a choice of wearing them either low on my hips in order to get them to actually cover my buttocks, or pulling them up my hips, in which case, they were so low at the back they were almost down to my butt crack. The problem? No room in the arse, dears - not something you can tell from a photograph.

This is an increasing trend, not only as my arse grows ever larger - which it does - but also as goods are increasingly made in the Asia-Pacific region where women have flat bottoms. The average lardy, round European arse simply doesn't fit into these kinds of knickers. I'd also ordered a 16 to be on the safe side, and these fitted very well, but also felt as if they would fall off at the first step I took, they were so loose. So, back they go. 

M&S cotton rich pants

The size 14 black cotton pants, however, were perfect. This is the shape for me, with my 10-inch difference between waist and hip, and I'll definitely be ordering more. They are the same shape as my Elila control pants but without the control, and they properly come up to your waist. I'm delighted to have found these because it seems beyond the ken of manufacturers that a woman might want big pants that are pretty but NOT controlwear. I don't want control - I just want to feel secure, like my knickers aren't falling off or riding up or sawing me in half - you know, the kind of comfort MEN expect every time they get dressed.

Meanwhile, in a snit, back to Sloggi I went, ordering a three-pack of their maxi briefs, in which I will basically look like my mum. But at least my bum will be safe - there's no escaping a Sloggi.

Lands end trousers black velveteen trousersponte trousers

Next up, trousers from Land's End. Oh dearie me. I've ordered lots of fleece pants and cotton jersey trousers from Land's End and been really pleased with them, so I thought I'd take a punt on their tailored trousers, but despite my careful checking of the measures, not a single pair of these fits me. They are all so large on the waist that I could stuff a toy rabbit down there (his name's Thumper, since you ask...). So back go all of those too, and at international postage rates, more fool me.

It's the first time I've sent stuff back to Land's End, but once bitten, twice shy - I won't be ordering tailored pants from them again. A shame, as the ponte fabric of the paler grey pants was absolutely gorgeous - I will definitely look out for that in future.

teal skirt

It made me realise, however, that I have also reached a crossroads - I will be 50 very soon and I have had it with uncomfortable clothes. I need ease. Ease in the waist - my favourite being the kind of smooth, stretch (not gathered) waist of Land's End Starfish trousers or this Wall pull-on skirt; ease in the knees, so that I can sit cross-legged or do my yoga without getting changed; and ease across the body, preferably in wrap styles, knitwear or stretch tops. I am renouncing tailoring - it is just not ME. 

In my wardrobe, the things that get the most wear are:

* Teeshirts, vests and camisoles in cotton jersey.
* Fleece pull-on pants with pockets from Lands' End, and their stretch fleece tops.
* (make unknown) bootcut jeans with 5 per cent lycra, and BHS pull-on bootcut denim jeggings with an elastic back waistband.
* Black merino knitted pull-on trousers from Pringle. 
* Pima cotton jersey pull-on trousers from Wall.
* Thick merino knit pencil skirts from John Lewis (I have five).
* Cashmere knitwear, merino knitwear, cotton knitwear.
* Cotton jersey dresses from Wall.
* Wrap viscose dresses from Boden.
* Bias-cut linen or cotton dresses for summer.
* Wrap skirts and trousers.  

As you may notice, there is no tailoring anywhere. The trousers don't, in general, do up with zips and buttons - they pull up and then have a flat, yoga-style waist. I also wear wrap skirts and Thai fisherman's-style trousers, which I can adjust as I see fit. Sometimes I put on conventional jeans then a few hours later I take them off and get back into my stretch items. You can't do yoga in jeans, can you? A few hours of sitting at a desk and I'm tired of pulling trousers out of my crotch or undoing the top button - women my shape are not designed for jeans unless they have serious amounts of stretch. 

Wall baggiesWall pima cotton trousersAmalfie dressHaving had my mini-epiphany, I parcelled up my failures and logged back onto Wall, where - to my delight - some items I'd been considering were now halved in price. So, I got these black cotton-drill baggy pants, which are just my cup of tea: wide enough in the leg to accommodate cross-legged sitting, fully lined, pockets, elastic waist (on me, dear reader, they are ankle-length!); these pima cotton pull-ons, which I already have in grey and which are brilliant - very slimming with their vertical tucks, lined to the knee and - listen up, manufacturers - also HAVE POCKETS; and this Amalie linen/viscose dress, which I've lusted after for ages, but which had been sold out in the blue colourway I wanted. I just love this, the asymmetry of it, the interesting use of the fabric, and it will be my first linen item from Wall.

Maybe, just maybe, with better weather forecast, I might actually get to wear it soon.    

wall jersey dress

I also got this jersey dress in viscose and spandex, which I've had my eye on for a while but never quite plumped for (bought a size up, so I can get thermals under it). This is more for next winter than this summer, and gives me a chance to try out another Wall fabric.  



Clothes stash: dresses from Wall

I've treated myself to another trip to Wall London for New Year.

Pleat front dress

This New Year I have treated myself to another roam around the website of Wall London, one of my go-to clothing companies for women over 40. 

Wall is a high-end company that makes clothing for grown-up women in flattering matt fabrics such as Pima cotton jersey, merino and alpaca. The clothes are aimed at women who have an intellectual as well as social life, and who regard their pieces as investments which stay in their wardrobe for a long time.

They offer a discerning buyer some rare qualities, such as a comfortable cut and sleeves on dresses, as well as beautiful and unusual fabrics.  

It takes quite a lot these days for me to buy clothing, as I only buy something if I can't make it, but since I am rubbish at sewing stretch fabrics, I absolutely love my first purchase from Wall, which I made last March, of this Pima cotton jersey dress (mine is black, not burgundy). With its v-neck, long sleeves, A-line knee-length skirt and beautiful pleat details, it skims over every troublesome area and accommodates itself to every occasion from work to cocktails to dinner out. 

On me, being short, the v-neck is considerably lower than it was shown on the model, so I have to wear a vest under it, which enables me to ring the changes with a flash of colour at the neckline. I've regretted, ever since, not getting it in two different colours. 

Issy dress

For New Year 2013, I decided to treat myself to this 'Issy' dress (presumably for Issey Miyake), which is something I've had my eye on since last spring. It was available in black and a lipstick pink, but I opted for it in grey to show off the fantastic bodice seaming while not calling too much attention to itself.

Sleeves on a dress like this would have been great, but sleeveless is also useful, to go with numerous cardis and shrugs. The asymmetric skirt, I think, is really beautiful and unusual and I can see myself getting a lot of wear out of this garment.

Pirouette dress

Once that was bought, I also decided on this cowl-neck Pirouette dress - this time sleeved, with this interesting shape of skirt, which I chose in 'umber' - not a usual shade for me but the grey altenative struck me as slightly too nun-like. I am a tad concerned it will be too long, but it will be an easy matter to ruch up the side seams of the skirt if necessary and created a more gathered look. There is something about it that makes me think of the great French couturier Vionnet. 

Teal Lantern dress

I now have my eye on a couple of other things too: this Lantern dress in teal, with its asymmetric bodice and very unusual bag hem, and this nifty little princess-seamed jersey dress with kicky gores at the hem, which will go with just about everything. 

Grey Wall dress

This is what I'm aiming for, then, as I approach my sixth decade - simple, elegant, comfortable, well-made clothes in flattering colours that can be dressed up or down, but have a bit of an arty twist that lifts them above the run of the mill.  



Forward to the past

There's a distinct timewarp about the latest fashions being pushed at us.

Celine coat

I was trawling through the Guardian's fashion pages just now and it strikes me that it really looks like recession is here to stay. The last time I saw clothes as body armour like this was in the 1980s. 

The 1980s, lest we forget, was a bloody terrible era for most people. Other than the Hooray Henrys in the City, everyone was worse off, with massive unemployment, the loss of union representation, wages effectively frozen, rights as citizens removed in favour of so-called rights as 'consumers' (as if a person should be measured on what they spend...) and a freeze on council house building that led directly to the ridiculous boom in house prices that is now seeing so many UK families homeless or trapped in rental accommodation.

But I digress. What really caught my eye was this coat from Celine (above), because, dear reader, I have owned this exact style of coat in pretty much this exact colour. And also in the equivalent rock-hard magenta. Back in - when? 1984, 1985? Around that era, anyway.

The article describes it as an oversized man's coat, and indeed at that time, I also wore actual men's coats - a grey Crombie that I shared with my 6' 2" boyfriend, a classic tweed, a black wool Savile Row overcoat. The fact that they stood out so far from my shoulders that it looked like the coathanger was still in there was just part of the fashion of the time. And they weighed a ton. 

Look again at the clothes mentioned in this piece: kilts, or kilt-style skirts (wore them loads in the 80s); oxblood suits (mine came complete with two rows of gold military buttons); quilted coats (hello Issey); faux fur (again, still got my gigantic lime-green one because the DH loves it so much he won't let me part with it); military-style overcoats (when the Wall came down, the street markets were flooded with German uniforms); silk scarves worn as a stock. 

These are clothes for protection, clothes as armour, clothes for standing in the dole queue, for eating chips out of a paper bag, for waiting for the bus service that's been shaved to the bone. We should not be happy that they are appearing now, because fashion, whether we like it or not, does reflect the zeigeist, and our zeitgeist is looking pretty fucking crap. Double-dip and treble-dip recessions, general strikes all over Europe, Palestine kicking off for the nth time.

Here we go, girls. Wrap up warm, because it looks like we'll need it. 


Dressing for grown-ups, part one

Your 40s is the decade to upgrade your choice of fabric and cut.

Beige Trench

Dressing well shouldn't be simply a matter of weight, and it shouldn't simply be a matter of age either. We're all aware that a 40 or 50-year old can't dress like a teenager - that's just plain sad. But once you hit 30, I reckon, you can start developing a personal style that can take you, with annual updates, through the rest of your life.

So what should it be based on? Here are some handy 'rules' - rules in the sense of 'for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise women'...

1 Dress like a grown-up

You are not a little girl any more, so knock off the ruffles and bows and all the cutesy, ditsy stuff. Shorty ra-ra skirts, itsy-bitsy little tops, girly prints, t-shirts with bunnies on or 'sexy' sayings. These are no longer for you. Instead, look for reserved, adult clothing with some structure and shape to it. Long sleeves on tops, long legs on trousers, whatever necklines are most flattering for you personally, clothing without bells and whistles, classic block colours - black, white, navy, cream and good neutrals. Build your wardrobe around these items and then add your own twist and flair.

Beige shift dress

2 Keep it covered

I don't mean nun-like, but in general, follow the 30 per cent rule - only show 30 per cent of your body at any one time, even for evening. Now is the time to look like a woman who's actually getting sex, rather than desperately looking for it. If you've got great arms, by all means wear a sleeveless top, but keep the neck high for maximum impact and cover your legs. If you're wearing backless, keep the front high: if you're wearing a plunge front, keep the back high... The fact is: if you reveal your flesh, you are going to be compared with every 20-year-old who does the same - it is far better to leave people guessing about how gorgeous you are than to show them you're not.

3 Keep it simple

There's a good reason I've banged on endlessly in this blog about 'classic clothes', and that's because they work. And one key thing that differentiates classic clothes is that they have simple lines - their design is pared down to the essentials. Whatever you're wearing, seek simplicity and avoid exaggeration. Don't wear things with 25 colours and added bits of gewgaws all over them - contrasting appliques and heavy beading in clashing colours. Avoid big shoulders, poofy skirts, huge floppy collars and lapels, and weird sleeve designs. These don't do anyone any favours - even teenagers, but teenagers have a right to look stupid if they want to. Grown up girls need to raise the bar a little - aiming for elegance and class. Keeping it simple works with any type of clothing - blouses with small collars, t-shirts with scoop or v necks, blouses with clean French cuffs, pencil skirts, clean-lined jackets with vertical seaming....

Built-in blouse

4 Keep it clean

When I say clean, I do mean physically clean. Being scruffy is the prerogative of the young, the rich and the mad, but the rest of us have to conform a little even if we may not like it. Going out with chipped nail polish, undyed roots, a moustache or clothes covered in dog hair just screams middle-aged rut, and don't think that people won't notice because they will. Grown-up girls have to look groomed. Not polished necessarily, but soignée, as the French say - cared-for, put-together. A clean, crisp, groomed appearance always works, no matter what your lifestyle.

Yes, it takes a little application, but the effort repays itself a hundred-fold. Choose a haircut that you can maintain easily (or pay to have maintained). Keep your clothes clean (if you can't afford or don't wish to undertake dry cleaning, buy clothes you can wash at home). Do running repairs once a month - sewing buttons back on and taking your shoes for re-heeling. Iron things properly and treat stains before they set. Overall, treat your clothing as if it cost ten times the price.

Linen tunic

5 Keep it quality

Quality wears better than rubbish, and whatever the item, quality cloth, cut and finish will show. Buy quality items wherever you can, even for basics - pima cotton t-shirts, Egyptian cotton blouses, cashmere and merino knitwear in plain colours, decent wool-rich suiting (a little stretch here can work wonders), a fantastic pair of jeans with the outside seam brought slightly forward to slim your thighs, and correct pocket placement. Watch out for the sales and stock up on basics from good manufacturers. It is better to have a smaller wardrobe of quality items than a large wardrobe of tat - the age of 40 is a good signal to upgrade your choice of fabric and cut.

When I say quality, this is quality at every level, so if you're strapped for cash, go for the best of a type. Rather than buying low-end fakes of high-end items, look for high-end democratic items at a lower price level. Instead of tinny gold-plate jewellery, buy handmade wooden beads; instead of a plastic leather-look handbag, buy a good-quality canvas bag; if you can't afford cashmere, buy merino on sale rather than a cheap acrylic sweater. In the long run, it will pay dividends.

The definite dozen

If you have these items in your wardrobe, you'll always have something to wear.

If you have these 12 items in your wardrobe, you'll always have something to wear...

Pyjama game

With my old flannel PJs finally biting the dust, the hunt is on for something - anything - that I want to wear in bed

thumbWhy can't European retailers make decent, warm pyjamas? Thank God for the Americans.

One woman's vintage is another woman's heyday

Check out this nice vintage site, but make sure you buy from the right era!

Retro Chick thumbnailVintage chic for those with modest budgets

The swimdress - another beach alternative for women over 40

Further to my article on swimwear I found these babies the other day - swimdresses

If you can only pack one cossie and you like a bit of cover, you could think about a swimdress. A swimdress is a more forgiving alternative to a swimsuit, and if you pick your design right, you can have rather looser coverage than wearing a swimskirt - useful if you've got tummy issues.

Nice while it lasted? That depends on your perspective

The end of cheap clothing is nigh, and bloody good riddance, say I

The end of cheap clothing could be a very good thing

Deconstructed fashion - part three: independent designers

Deconstructed fashion has some pretty big names, but it also has many smaller players

If you're fashion-conscious and over 40, don't despair - take the deconstructed approach.

Swimsuits for the over-40s babe

If you've got a great figure that you're proud to show off, read no further, but if you've got anything to hide, read on...

Buying  a swimsuit can be purgatory but there are now some fantastic offerings online

Beyond fashion - vintage style

We all have to wear clothes, but not all of us are in love with fashion. That's where vintage comes in.

Second marriages

Women over 40 are increasingly marrying again, but getting married in mid-life throws up different issues from marrying when you're younger. Not to mention the difficulty of finding that perfect dress...

Brigit Sapstead is having her wedding at Easter and it will be a time of great joy and celebration, but she's found that things are more complicated the second time around.

Second-hand rose

A very great deal of my clothing has belonged to someone else first.

Some people never see the point in buying stuff second-hand, but I love it.