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Twinkle, twinkle, little dress

If you can't dress up at New Year, when can you?

blue lurex dressA bit of glamour never did a girl any harm and this new year, I had a rare chance to really dress up.

Christmas, all in all, has been a bit flat this year, what with our internet going down for a whole month, one party on Christmas Eve being cancelled, and myself coming down with a cold on Boxing Day, and thus unable to go to a second, so it was nice to get an invite for New Year, if only to remember what other people looked like.

I enjoy frocking up, as it's such a change from my gumboot life, which is normally spent in jeans and sweaters. But the requirement for 'ballgown', along with the knowledge that the ballroom itself might have no heating at all, while the dining room would probably be sweltering, certainly meant getting my thinking cap on.

My normal evening attire is pretty easy - since most of our socialising involves dinner with friends or an occasional dinner in a restaurant, I tend to go for a skirt, dress or pants in black wool or velvet, coupled with an interesting top. But 'ballgown' is another matter.

Galloping to the rescue came a vintage dress I bought last year from Ebay without any idea of when I'd actually wear it - a fabulous thing in tooled blue irridescent lurex. It's totally over the top, but how many opportunities does a girl get to doll up with some real sparkle in the course of a year? 

More importantly, it was also a: roomy, so I could get serious thermals on under it, and b: princess-seamed, so there was no waistband - nothing's worse when you're sitting down to a seven-course gourmet meal than to find yourself sliced neatly in half. As you might guess from my red nose, the temperature was an issue, but luckily, only I needed to know that under my dress and warm shrug was also a long slip, fleece-lined tights, thermal socks and knee-length boots.

All the other girls looked splendid, I must say - H in her black lace 50s gown and pink shrug, looking like a Dresden shepherdess; a fashion designer in a vintage 70s green gown and wrap; and even two friends in identical 30-style black and white draped halterneck gowns, exhibiting considerable cleavage (brave indeed for women in their 50s, but one was so perishing cold that I ended up lending her my wrap for the evening).

Oh la, back to it's the usual ski thermals, poloneck sweater, gilet and Uggs. Time to pack the girlie frocks away until next Christmas...



Ladylike glamour at the Golden Globes

The 2010 Golden Globes showcased some beautiful and grown-up designs that the over-40s babe can easily emulate.

Demi mooreCan't let the day go by without mention of the Golden Globes frocks.

Susan SarandonLooking out for best-dressed women over 40, Susan Sarandon did us proud, as ever, this year in a luxurious black velvet 'le smoking' trousersuit. A tuxedo trousersuit like this should be in every woman's wardrobe once she hits 40. Paired with a camisole, a halter-neck top, a vest, a blouse, a waistcoat, you can endlessly ring the changes with it, and it's perfect for evenings when you're not quite sure of the level of formality, or whether the venue will be warm or cold.

Gowns were generally very elegant and understated this year, which was nice to see - Hollywood often equating allure with being drop-dead obvious. Many of the gowns were strapless but there was no strong trend emerging, though Sandra Bullock wore the 'in' colour of the night - purple, with a slightly sheer skirt.

Sandra BullockI really like this look, as it is one that can be reproduced fairly easily at a lower price point, and it is beautiful without being in any way trashy. Most women retain pretty necks and shoulders well into later life and a strapless dress, properly fitted, can showcase them to perfection. The key for many of us is the tricky armpit area, where the upper breast meets the arm - correct fitting here is crucial to avoid nasty skin pucker.

Glenn CloseHelen MirrenWhen women opted for black they often did so with sequins, such as Glenn Close's strapless number from Oscar de la Renta, and Helen Mirren's fishtail gown - note the sleeves, which Mirren almost always wears - one of the advantages of having clothes made to order. It is an easy enough fix for any competent dressmaker, if you ever find a strapless dress that you like, which would be just perfect if it only had sleeves. Separate sleeves can be made from organza, tulle or chiffon, and you could even have several sets made to ring the changes. 

A bit of colour never comes amiss on the red carpet, where every man is wearing black. Laura Linney looked soft and pretty in an unusually coloured dress - almost a mustard creamy yellow, and this, along with Bullock's, was my favourite of the night.

Laura LinneyKyra Sedgwick Kyra Sedgwick's red gown (a satin with just the right amount of sheen) and Demi Moore's nude-colour boudoir chiffon (top left) were also lovely. 


End of an era for Lacroix

Lacroix has closed its doors to haute-couture

Lacroix gownSo, it's the end for Lacroix as a fashion house.

Ever since its inception in the mid-80s, the Lacroix fashion house has struggled to stay alive. Not once in all those years has it ever made a profit. Now it will be producing only perfume and accessories, and most of its highly skilled staff will be laid off. 

Bad news though it is, it is at least one degree better than the total bankruptcy many were expecting. The name, at least, will continue and one assumes there is always the possibility of the house itself rising again from the ashes, if a suitable buyer could be found. 

Lacroix is by any stretch an imaginative designer, but his work suffers for several reasons: it is expensive, it is impossible to reproduce at a lower price level, it is too theatrical for many women to wear, and it looks at its very best in close up. 

Lacroix gown2Until I saw Lacroix gowns in the flesh and was able to study their intricate detailing, I remained unmoved by their riot of colour and pattern. In photographs or on film, his garments often look a mess, and lack the strong silhouette that draws you to - say - a Chanel suit. Nor are they sexy in the way that a Versace gown is.

But in real life they are breathtakingly beautiful for beauty's sake alone, and have a wondrous, almost fractal-like ability to draw you in, becoming more detailed the more that you study them.They really are the stuff of dreams, and it is no surprise that Lacroix has made such a feature of constructing wedding dresses over the years. Speaking as a craftsperson, I weep to think such skills might not be used again - one can only hope that Dior takes up the slack - and as many staff as possible from the defunct house. 

Lacroix gown3A Lacroix gown was always something beyond the pocket of most of us, and now the only chance to see them will be in exhibitions at museums and art galleries. So, let us cherish them there, at least, for what they really are - wearable art of the highest order. 


Queen's dresses on display

An exhibition of the Queen's dresses is now running at Buckingham Palace.

Queen Olympic dressIf you're interested in couture, especially applied techniques, it's probably well worth visiting the exhibition of the Queen's clothes now showing at Buckingham Palace until September 29th.

On display are 28 gowns and day outfits that she's worn on Commonwealth tours over the past 50 years.

Our image of the Queen is so strong that we often don't stop to thin about how manufactured it is. 

Queen yellow dressQueenie herself is basically a horsewoman, most at home in tweed skirts, brogues, Barbours and the like (a la Helen Mirren in the movie). But for public appearances, her clothes have to meet a number of strict criteria. They can't blow about in the wind (hems are carefully weighted), they must cope with whatever temperatures they're designed for (hence the continuing popularity of matching dress and coat, as you can take the coat off and still be dressed up underneath) and above all, she has to be visible, hence the fondness for strong colours. 

Queen Canada dressIt might surprise some people who aren't familiar with how the Queen dresses abroad to see that many of these clothes are in very strong colours such as emerald green and peacock blue. These are often worn in countries such as India and Pakistan, in marked contrast to the strong pastels for which the Queen is known in the UK. 

Maples leaves close upBut above all, for lovers of applied techniques, it's worth getting up close and personal with these gowns - no-one in the world can afford such good embroidery as the Queen, and some of it is a real work of art, especially the work by Hartnell, often using other countries' national symbols (maple leaves shown here for her visit to Canada) or echoing their national colours.

Also included in the exhibition are more than 100 presents received by the Royals on their Commonwealth visits. 



Oscar frocks 2009

This year's Oscars saw a welcome return to grown-up glamour on the red carpet

Anne HathawayA little late, but I thought I'd do it anyway and mention the Oscar frocks.

Sadly, I was too knackered to stay up to watch - the whole thing doesn't even start until half past midnight my time.

Choosing a frock for the Oscars is always a difficult decision. The gown has to look good in photos in thumbnail, at a distance, in close-up and in half-length (witness this uber-perfect example worn by Anne Hathaway, which perfectly frames her face and shoulders).

An Oscar gown needs a good silhouette and should preferably be in a colour that stands out agains the red carpet and against the ubiquitous black tuxes worn by the men. And it should be as glamorous as hell. 

Amanda SeyfriedOverall this year the frocks were surprisingly ladylike for Hollywood - far more grown-up than usual, with a lot less flesh on show, which is always a relief. Sex appeal does NOT lie is showing as much of yourself as humanly possible and these 1930s-1950s inspired gowns with their draping and pleating have far more elegance. This red example is worn by Amanda Seyfried. 

There was also a lot less bling - presumably Hollywood's nod to the recession - and instead of tons of diamond jewellery, most women opted for glittery frocks instead (again, Hathaway was a perfect example). 

Rachel Evans WoodAlicia KeysIn contrast to last year, when red was the order of the day, the most popular colours this year were white, ivory, champagne and nude, as seen here on Rachel Evans Wood, though there was the usual sprinkling of black (not a good colour for the red carpet) and some zingingly bright colours such as this pink worn by Alicia Keys.

Penelope CruzMarisa TomeiThere was lots of straplessness and structure (a bit more structure might have been in order in Sarah Jessica Parker's case, as her boobs looked like they were about to make a quick exit) but the most successful dresses were those with some skirt silhouette, such as Penelope Cruz's vintage gown by Balmain, and perhaps most notably Marisa Tomei's fantastic grey dress by Versace, which besides its wonderful pleating was bang up to date with its fishtail skirt and one-shoulder detail. 

Freida PintoKate WinsletThe one-shoulder look didn't always come off, though. Freda Pinto's dress by Galliano looked frankly bizarre to me and is a colour that wears her rather than her it. And poor Kate Winslet looks positively hefty in her shiny YSL jobby - but then this beautiful woman is often poorly served by her clothes. 

Speaking of poorly served, Sophia Loren's stylist should be looking for a new job for stuffing her into the frilly monstrosity below (though the net sleeves - almost invisible in this photo - are a great solution for ageing skin). Meryl Streep's choice does nothing for her either - far too nun-like and would have benefited from a bit of bling. 

Meryl Streep and Sophia LorenBeyonceHeidi KlumHowever, the biggest disaster is probably Beyonce's black and gold number - really, what WAS she thinking with this? It makes her look vast. And Heidi Klum equally missed the zeitgest - very unusual for a model - in an oversexy, overglitzy red number with fetish high heels - more 1980s than 2009. 

Miley CyrusTilda SwintonThe most beautiful gown was probably Tomei's but personally, my favourite was that worn by Miley Cyrus, in which she looks as cute as a 16-year-old ought to - it also had all the right elements: waist detail, nude colouring, sequin decoration. And for once I'll give a nod to Tilda Swinton. Swinton, who has a very distinctive style, usually makes very intellectual choices with her gowns and they are too understated to come off on camera, but this so-demure-it's-hardly-there nude blouse and black skirt by Lanvin are so 1930s chic that I think she got away with it this time. The red lips make all the difference.   

For a gallery of 66 celebs on the red carpet, visit the Daily Telegraph


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