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No to this

I sometimes think there's nothing at all to wear...

It hit me this morning when I was paging through the pages of the Celtic Sheepskin Co's clearance section how much I now say No to clothing. 

I rather flatter myself that it's partly because I've got my style down pat but it's also that with increasing age, I find there is so little in the shops or catalogues that suits my life and shape.

My lifestyle I've already gone into in some detail on these pages but when it comes to shape, I am a short woman (5ft 1.5in), with a curvy figure - something the designers seem to think doesn't exist. I'm titty and like to hide it, not show it off. My waist is usually 10-12 inches smaller than my hips, so clothes are always too big at the waist and have to be taken in. I also like to keep things fairly simple or I look like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. 

I don't show my legs or arms and I like my skirts long so I can go bare legged (I don't tan and haven't sunbathed in over 30 years, and my lily-white legs aren't something the public needs to see). I also have problems with my feet due to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, and have terrible trouble finding shoes.

There are some things I look for: a pretty collar in a face-flattering shape that shows off a nice necklace and earrings; a good scoop neck on a tee - not too high, not too low, not too wide; long sleeves that don't squeeze the arm like a sausage skin; flat elastic waists for the sake of comfort; pockets(!!!); bootcut trousers that balance my hips. Oh, and pockets. Did I mention, I like pockets?

But there are loads of things that seem very hard to find, such as attractive shoes that offer good support (I live in trainers and walking shoes but why are they always so garish? I go over them with black boot polish and colour in the brand logos with magic markers, but it doesn't last); flattering waistcoats or gilets that would offer a layer of warmth without too much bulk; long gilets that come down to mid-thigh; teeshirts that are long enough to go over your bust and still come down to the low hip. Pockets. Please, pockets...

The result is that I end up in a sort of boring daily uniform: black denim jeans or black Starfish straight-leg pants from Lands' End; long (27in) merino tees from Finisterre in shades like black, grey and linen; and fleece gilets from Lands' End, which I kind of hate but they lend the warmth I need. So unflattering is this getup that I almost long for the days of winter when I can pull on my fleece trousers and polonecks and forget all pretensions to style until March. 

In between-weather I also often wear a grey marl crewneck tee from Boden (I have a bunch of them because they are nice and long) but the neckline is slightly too high (and the scoopneck is too low) and I have to cheat it by wearing a necklace or scarf. For cardigans, Woolovers has proved useful, with its long (LONG, LONG, can you hear me, manufacturers?) lambswool cardigans with pockets. Oh yes, pockets...

In summer, life is easier: I just slip on one of a number of bias-cut or tulip-cut linen and hemp dresses I've run up over the years and top it with some sort of linen blouse or jacket, most of which are now heading for 20 years old (Hobbs, mainly), and I'm good to go.

All of which means that 99 per cent of clothing I see in the shops or catalogues or online is just unfeasible. Among the items I say 'no' to are: 

* Sleeveless or short-sleeved garments. I haven't shown my arms in years and there's no sense in asking me to.

* Openwork or lacy knit jumpers - these look terrible on any woman with tits because the lacy bit stretches right over your boobs giving a look the equivalent of underwear show-through.

* Boatnecks. Really? Where are you meant to put your bra straps? A slinky bra strap may look attractive on a 100lb teenager, but it's not a flattering look on a middle-aged woman with the strap cutting into her ageing skin and causing a bump either side. Gimme a break.  

* Three-quarter sleeves. Well, OK in summer, but not a useful length at this time of year. I'd always prefer the option of rolling up full-length sleeves rather than being forced into three-quarter length. Don't kid yourself - manufacturers do this to save on fabric yardage, not because of anything to do with you. 

* Crewnecks. My tits (and those of 90 per cent of British women) are far too big for this.

* Wrapover tops or dresses with Lycra. Far too clingy. Not a single one of those wrap-style things is wearable by anyone with breasts unless you also wear a camisole and even then you still have to pin yourself together to avert catastrophe. Hopeless. I have wrap clothes from the 50s and 80s that fit perfectly well, however, because the styles in those days designers actually knew how to design for women who looked like women. 

* Leggings. Obviously...

* Jeans, on the whole. If trousers fit me at the hip, they're about four inches too big in the waist and jeans are a nightmare to alter because of the heavy fabric. One day, I keep promising myself, I will make my own and until then, I make do with crappy looking jeans that are too big, or denim jeggings.

* Breast pockets. Picking up a theme here? Me in breast pockets looks like twin battleships have hoved into port.

* Pencil skirts, which walk straight up my round hips and in which I can't sit cross-legged anyway.

* Knee-length skirts, which make me feel horribly exposed when I sit down - I prefer a floaty mid-calf length skirt cut on the bias or A line.

* High heels, which foot problems have made a thing of the past.

* Ballet slippers, loafers and most sandals, which although flat, give insufficient support to a pronating foot.

* Shorts. God give me strength... What woman over 40 is brave enough to wear these?

It is galling, because I can't be the ONLY woman who has these issues of trying to force a real woman's body into clothes designed by gay men for teenage girls. It is totally unrealistic. I am not six foot tall with a flat chest. Models today seem to have bust measures between 31 and 33 inches, while the average British woman has a 39in bust, a 40in hip and measures under 5ft 4in in height. 

However, fortunately, there are still companies I can rely on, even if it does mean having deep pockets: Finisterre, Rohan, Wall, Toast, Orvis, Celtic Sheepskin Company, Aigle, Armor-Lux, Craghoppers, Woolovers, Seasalt, Boden. By picking and choosing between these brands, and even still occasionally at Lands' End, I can hopefully find enough things to actually wear.

 

Outdoor gear

My outdoor gear is really my favourite sort of clothing, when fashion gives way to function.

Stadium Squall coat

I'm fresh back from a holiday and photographic trip to Brittany and thought I'd do a quick blog about how our outdoor clothes performed.

We were rambling, out in the rain, wind, blustery weather - sometimes coldish at 2 degrees, sometimes warm at a ridiculous (for November) 17 degrees. On the Atlantic coast, you're pretty exposed to gales, and it's always windy, even on a fine day, so you need to dress snugly, and we were mainly on the beach and the coastal path, though also in town, so didn't want to look too grungy. 

Deciding what clothes to take in such a changeable environment is always a little tricky. We're out all day and can't pop back to the house, and I'm also never sure how easy it will be to get things dry in the gite, but after years of doing this, I've got my uniform pretty well sorted out - I take fewer clothes every year and this year only took a kit bag. 

Undies were an Ahh bra and Sloggi full briefs, so you can just put on your clothes and forget about them. The great thing about the Sloggis is that they don't budge - when you're in multiple layers, you don't want to be endless picking your knickers out of your butt crack. For socks, I wore the Woodlander from Corrymoor - a long, mid-weight merino sock. I took along my Explorers too but it wasn't cold enough to wear them, though I did wear my spare pair of Companions (like the Woodlander but shorter) on one day. Aired overnight and alternated, you can keep two pairs of Corrymoors going almost indefinitely, as they're naturally antibacterial.  

The big change for me this year was my thermals. In the past I've relied on the Five Seasons ClimateControl thermals, either the Superwoman set or the Adini set. I now have eight of these, and wear them very often at home in winter, as our house is a bit chilly. One issue when travelling, however, is that they're slow to dry, so washing and wearing is a tad difficult, especially if you're staying somewhere that you can't spin them. My normal method is to handwash, wring out, roll in a towel and stand on it to squeeze the water out, but it does still leave clothes wetter than you'd get in a washing machine and they take a couple of days to dry completely. Therefore you'd need at least three to get through a week. 

Zephyr vest

This year, however, was my first winter holiday wearing merino underwear and base layers from Finisterre, and I have to say they were bloody fabulous. I wore the Zephyr vest under the Eddy tee, and I was as snug as a bug. No sweating, no overheating, no chill. On one day, I wore a Five Seasons top instead and lived to regret it, as I felt sweaty all day. The Five Seasons are great if you're not exerting yourself, but if you're sweating inside them, they don't wick as well as the merino.

Using the merino also meant that I could take fewer clothes. I took two vests and alternated them, but they didn't need washing all week, and I also alternated two tees, favouring the grey one. Washed out in the evening, they were almost dry by the next morning, even just left on a rack over the bath.  

On my lower half, I stuck to Five Seasons longjohns, as my Zephyr merino leggings hadn't arrived by the time we left. These worked just fine and I didn't need the spare pair I took in case the first pair got wet.  

Craghoppers microfleece

On top of the thermals, I wore a Craghoppers half-zip microfleece, mainly a grey Fusion (no longer made) men's fleece with a zip pocket on the front (incredibly handy for tissues, though it's designed for an MP3 player). I also took along a women's Miska microfleece in a lovely bright jade but quickly realised this bright colour is not the thing to wear when you're pee'ing behind bushes on the coastal path. Therefore when we got home I quickly bought, on Ebay, a taupe-coloured Craghopper's microfleece with a zip pocket on the sleeve, which will hopefully render me a bit less conspicuous. I will also always, from now on, wear fleeces with a zip pocket - they are incredibly handy. 

The half-zip fleeces do leave you a bit exposed at the neckline, and I found a Heavenly fleece scarf from Lands' End very useful when I wasn't wearing a balaclava. A fleece scarf is a useful beast on holiday - not the most stylish of garments, but it keeps you warm even when wet, and is never itchy.  

For trousers, I stuck to two pairs (the second pair 'just in case') of Crivit walking trousers from Lidl. These are great things - a tough, stretchy, slightly rubberised-feeling fabric, showerproof, elastic waist, and with extra leg pleats so you can bend your knees easily. One pair have zip-up pockets and also a zip pocket on the leg, so I mostly wore these - it's crucial that when you sit down, you don't lose your house keys... 

I also took along my lovely Craghopper thermal Kiwi trousers with built-in fleece lining, but I cannot get on at all with these pants. They are totally the wrong cut for my shape, which is a huge shame - too tight at the front over my pot belly, way loose at the back, very uncomfortable for travelling in, though just about bearable for walking. I'm gutted. My DH lives in his Kiwis each and every day - with their brushed fabric and eight pockets, he finds them the perfect garment but they don't suit me at all. 

Land's end boots

For shoes, I wore winter walking boots from Land's End (now discontinued but other styles are available). These were fantastically comfortable, waterproof, supportive round the ankle, non-sweaty inside, with a cushioned footbed. Wish I'd bought two pairs... My only other outdoor footwear was my trusty Aigle neoprene-lined wellies, which are about 15 years old now and still going strong. Long may they last, because a new pair would be nearly 200 euros. I also took along Uggs for wearing indoors and some lighter weight trekking shoes, which I didn't wear.

I took three coats but only really wore one - the Lands' End Stadium Squall coat in black (top left). This is a longish coat in tough nylon, with loads of big pockets, which kept me dry even in Brittany's occasional torrential rains. It's perfect, as it says, for squally, blustery weather. It's fleece-lined in the upper half and sleeves, then has quilted padding on the lower half (in a really cold wind, however, you can feel the difference - the lower half is not so snug), and it also has a decent fleece-lined hood. The handy two-way zip meant it didn't get in the way on steep sections, and I liked that it was long enough to sit down in, whereas the DH had to take off his Squall Parka to avoid getting a wet bum. 

I also took along (all from Lands' End) a down gilet, fleece-lined waterproof gilet (discontinued), Squall Parka and Sunshower Parka, and wore all of them, but really didn't need them - I could have managed with the Squall Stadium alone. Also, all these items are bright, screaming yellow, which I find useful for dog-walking, especially in low light, but I wish in retrospect that I'd bought them in darker colours, as I could always wear a high-vis vest.  

A cheap fleece balaclava from Intersports, a corduroy bucket hat from Lands' End and fleece-lined gloves from Lidl completed my usual daily ensemble, while to relax in, and for travelling home, I wore stretch fleece pants and a fleece polo from Lands' End - stretchy, warm, lightweight, comfortable, and still smart enough to get away with as long as you keep the colours dark.

Aran Crafts sweater

The DH, as usual, took too many clothes (far more than me) and those he did take were too warm, especially his Insulated Squall Parka, which has never yet encountered cold enough weather to be feasible. He ended up in fleece longjohns from Regatta, Kiwi trousers from Craghoppers, short-sleeve teeshirts from Lands' End and fleeces from French brands Cap Marine and Lafuma, bought at our favourite shop, Comptoir de la Mer.

The Lafuma top is particularly gorgeous (a present from me) and is in thick marled grey fleece that looks like knit. He hasn't had it off his back since he got it. Meanwhile, he bought me the dream cardigan that I have been searching for for two years - a charcoal merino Aran knit, knee length, with pockets and a hood. A fabulous garment, it's by Irish firm Aran Crafts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling fleecy

The switch from wool to fleece marks a new stage in my sartorial journey.

Squall jacketI have been having a bit of a splurge recently - probably my last for a while.

The reason is that over the past year, I have fast become a convert to outdoor and high-tech clothing, and so I decided to make an investment in a new capsule wardrobe.

It marks, in a way, a new stage of my life, I feel. It's not that I have given up on style, but I do rather feel that fashion has largely given up on me, and I am now resolved to focus my budget on clothing that is more suited to my life. You know - the one I actually have rather than the one I'd like to have.

My everyday life contains few opportunities - or requirements - to dress up. Most people here live in jeans, wellies and fleece. I don't need to be formal, as I once did, nor to impress anyone at work. I mostly spend my days doing housework, gardening, and writing cross-legged in a big old wing chair with my Macbook in my lap: this is not conducive to towering heels and pencil skirts: besides, most town clothing simply doesn't stand up to country life.

I have an extensive collection of beautiful vintage clothing for the odd posh dinner or gallery opening I go to, but the rest of my time only requires that my garments be comfortable and practical not beautiful or sexy. And with December nearly upon us, warmth is once again my highest priority: it was three degrees at noon today, as I drove through the fog to my friend K's.

Brought up, as I was, a complete snob about natural fabrics, for years I've eschewed acrylic, nylon and polyester in favour of wool, silk and cotton. But after many years of struggling to keep warm in winter with traditional merino and silk, the discovery last year of modern ski base layers in fleece and Climate Control wicking polyester fabrics was a revelation. Get into the 21st century, why don't you? The newly fleece-clad DH and I spent the most comfortable winter ever, in indoor temperatures that were rarely above 14 degrees and certainly fell as low at 8 degrees in our glacial bedroom.

He was more experimental than I. Years of watching every penny we spend have made me reluctant to spend money on new clothing - nearly everything I own is second-hand (let's call it vintage) - and I was gobsmacked when he spent over £30 on a fleece. A fleece, for God's sake, I thought. A synthetic fabric...

I learned quickly, of course, what everyone else has doubtless known for bloody ages - that the good stuff has come on a long way from the pill-prone plastic shite I bought once and discarded in disgust 20 years ago. A crappy £4 fleece from Primark does just what it says on the tin, but a £35 microfleece from Berghaus is a different animal and it is to microfleeces that I am the biggest convert of all. They feel like suede; you can wear them over or under things, or even next to your skin; they come out of the washer almost dry; they wick the sweat right off you, and if you pay a little extra, they are very nicely styled and wear extremely well.

Such garments are made by firms that put the design and utility of the garment first, and the look of the thing second, and there is a quiet beauty in that: these garments are fit for purpose, unrestrictive and comfortable and are designed by the kind of people who actually wear them. They don't ride up, or stretch, or scratch or itch. It is very pleasant to put on garments that are so well made (more than can be said of the offerings from the average UK high street store), and so reasonably priced at the same time - because gone for good are the days when I could splash out £400 on a cashmere sweater. 

Squall jackethoodieLands' End is a label that is fast becoming a favourite: like Boden and Orvis, their clothes suit my casual life, and are both practical and pretty. When the DH ordered himself their Insulated Squall Parka, I quickly followed suit with a bright yellow one (but without the extra insulation). It is fantastic for walking the dog: lightweight, warm and windproof, and I practically glow in the dark - important in the fog and the half-light.

Thermacheck 200 parkaSince they had a sale on, I ordered a few other things too - the Squall Jacket (like the Parka but shorter) in Chambray Blue; a stretch fleece hoodie (the most useful garment, by far, I find, as I do suffer so terribly from cold ears); and fleece socks and gloves, so I could check out their Thermacheck 100 fleece in an accessory before buying a staple garment.

stretch fleece giletglovesNext up came a couple of fleece polos, a Heavenly Fleece scarf (I await with anticipation, as the French say); two fleece gilets and a Thermacheck 200 (ie: 200gsm) fleece parka. And if the idea of sports clothing makes you shudder, btw, the firm also does fleeces cut in conventional shapes such as cardigans and blazers, which give a more tailored look without the weight and restriction of wool. I've kept my palette to soft blues, greens and lilacs, as with such casual cuts and no applied detailing, using a flattering colour becomes more important than ever. 

blue Craghoppers fleeceMost of the outdoor clothing companies (and admittedly Land's End is more of a fashion firm that sells outdoor clothing than an outdoor specialist like North Face) develop and sell their own patented fabrics or finishes, with names like WindCheck, Dri-Off, AT-Optic etc. How much of this you need, and how much you're willing to pay for depends on your lifestyle. Personally, I haven't yet felt the need to splash out the 100-quid plus level for North Face or Patagonia, as I don't go hauling my arse up Ben Nevis, but I have lately progressed from Lands End to the slightly more specialist Craghoppers and Berghaus, which offer sun-protection fabrics and anti-mosquito fabrics, and for his birthday I bought the DH Craghopper's Kiwi trousers because they have eight pockets and he is a pocketaholic.

So, we will see how we get on...

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