Fashion & Style

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Project 333

Could you stick to 33 items of clothing for the next three months?

fiske hoody

I thought I'd write a bit today about Project 333.

Project 333 is a minimalist clothing concept developed by blogger Courtney Carver. Basically, you commit to wearing only 33 items of clothing for the next three months. Anything you didn't wear by the end of that time, you donate or sell. Then for the next three months, you do the same again. There exists a website where people can log on and commit to the idea and post how they're getting on, along with daily photo diaries of all the different combinations that can be achieved with just 33 garments. 

I thought 33 items (including footwear and accessories but not including undies) was a bit tight, but actually it's quite do-able. However, many of the participants don't seem to need very different winter and summer clothing the way we do here, so I know that my four three-month tranches would vary quite widely.

As anyone who follows this blog will know, I live in a big old draughty house in rural Normandy. This morning, it was minus-6 outside and 11 degrees in the kitchen. Right now, in front of the woodburner in the living room, it's more like 18 degrees. Sitting here in my 'nightie' (a knee-length merino wool dress plus fleece pjs and Uggs) I feel quite warm. But in summer, it could easily reach 28 degrees in our bedroom and I'd be in my thinnest silk or bamboo nighties. 

On a daily basis in winter, I wear thermals, fleece pants and a fleece polo plus big socks from Corrymoor and trainers indoors. Outdoors I wear black jeans and either a waterproof coat for walking the dogs, with wellies, or a nice wool coat for going into town, with boots. Add a grey felt toque and some hats and scarves, and that's about it. I have zero requirement to look 'smart'. 

Now that Christmas is over, my 33 items for the next three months might look something like this:

Eddy teeshirt from FinisterreStarfish pants from Lands End

9 merino tees

Black Eddy tee x 3

Grey Eddy tee x 2

Linen Eddy tee x 2

Grey Fiske sweat

Grey Fiske hoody

5 bottoms

Black jeans x 2

Grey fleece pants

Black fleece pants

Black fleece Starfish pants from Lands' End 

Bezant cardi from FinisterrePipistral coat

4 knits/warm tops

Grey Oxford collar lambswool cardi from Woolovers

Grey Bezant cardi from Finisterre

Black fleece polo from Lands' End

Charcoal Aran Crafts long cardi with hood

4 coats

Taupe Pipistral coat from Finisterre

Black Squall Stadium coat from Lands' End

Pink mohair vintage coat

Lemon mohair vintage coat

11 other

Grey fleece gilet from Lands' End

Grey pashmina (gift from my sister)

Grey toque hat

Waterproof hat bought in Finistère

Shivling gloves from Rohan

Pearl necklace

Gold and pearl earrings

Uggs

Brown trainers

Walking boots 

Wellies 

Sticking to a colour palette based on neutrals simplifies things a great deal but let's see if this lot gets me through till the end of March.  


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A streamlined wardrobe

Twenty sacks and counting.

My massive declutter continues and I'm beginning to see light and space in the house. Twenty 100ltr sacks of clothes have now hit the kerb one way or another. 

Organiser Marie Kondo recommends that you do your clothes first, because these things definitely belong to you and are easy to make decisions about, though I confess I am also doing it in a light way with books from time to time, just to take a break. For instance, I just boxed up all my remaining classics books from college and gave them to a friend (it felt great - haven't looked at the damn things for 30 years).

When it comes to clothes, though, this process been a lot less painful than I thought. Instead of weighing up the pros and cons of each item - is it useful, how often do I wear it, etc, I simply picked up each garment and felt it in my hands. Your fingertips tell you the truth - this is too old, this is too stiff, this is too tired. Or this is snuggly, this feels delicious, this is silky and delectable.

I've found that quite coincidentally, the process has narrowed down my wardrobe to a palette of grey, black, taupe and teal, with the odd very dark brown piece, and pastel colours such as pale pink and light, leafy green and soft blue (mainly thin sweaters) for summer. There are one or two white things and some brighter coloured scarves and winter coats for a jolt of energy in a dark season. 

I still have too many clothes - my ultimate aim is to get them down to a single standard wardrobe's worth - but it's an improvement. I've taken 18 100 sacks to the charity drop-off point, given a shedload to friends and put aside a small pile for Ebay (is it worth the hassle, I ask myself, and the answer is no for anything worth less than £20, which is the vast majority of my stuff).

My vintage clothes, I've packed separately, as other than cashmere sweaters and coats, these are really more about inspiration than wear these days, when my clothes lead a hard life of mud, dogs and woodburners. Meanwhile, for daily wear, there is a handful of brands I rely on:

* Finisterre, for merino thermals, tees and hoodies, knitwear and my new Pipistral coat - the best coat I've ever owned.

* Lands' End, for fleeces and walking shoes - their cashmere is also good.

* Wall, for Pima cotton dresses and wool trousers.  

* Boden, for grey cotton crewneck tees, which are 27 inches long, and linen and silk dresses for summer.

* Armor-Lux, for thick cotton Breton tops, which I own in navy and grey.

* M&S, for plain black denim jeans with black stitching, which I much prefer to a contrast stitch. 

* Sloggi, for cotton full briefs - the only knickers I now own.

* Bali, for minimiser bras, which converted me to underwires for the first time in 20 years. 

* Aran Crafts, for traditional knitwear, including my favourite long hooded coat. 

* Woolovers, for simply everyday knits in lambswool and merino.  

There is also a sprinkling of other brands: Orvis, Pringle, Braemar, Adini, Woolpower - mainly country or specialist clothiers rather than high street - and most of the unique spark is provided by vintage items: a lemon-coloured wool bouclé coat from the 60s, a bright pink 1950s coat in bouclé mohair, a cream polar-bear coat, a grey Persian lamb by Calman Links, etc. 

This Christmas was wick with social occasions, but with a trimmed-down wardrobe it proved sartorially easy. I mainly wore black cotton drill baggy trousers from Wall that look and feel like the finest wool, black leather ankle boots from M&S and a range of different tops and wraps - a silver textured fabric vintage jacket that my sister calls my 'panscrubber' jacket; a black wrap I made myself from silk fabric covered in shaggy beaded fringe; a scarlet Chinese silk embroidered vintage jacket from the 50s; a vintage sequinned cardigan with cream and black harlequin pattern; and a screaming magenta velvet vintage coat. 

This is how occasionwear looks in this neck of the woods - a nice coat that makes an entrance, some long, baggy trousers you can get your thermals under if need be and a top that looks interesting over the dining table.  

Rohan

Rohan has been around a long time, but it's a new label for me.

Shivling gloves

I thought I'd write today about a 'new' clothing label I've found - Rohan. 

Rohan isn't new, of course. Hikers and ramblers have been wearing their clothes for 40 years, but I bought my first things from them only recently. Aside from the horrendously difficult ordering process (about which I ended up in an email exchange with customer services), I have to admit that I'm impressed.

It was my friend J who put me onto them. J and his wife are dedicated ramblers and have been wearing Rohan clothes for over 20 years - some of his trousers are still going strong after that length of time. Rohan have a reputation among younger hikers of being a bit fogey-ish, which suits me fine, to be honest. The last thing I want is to trek across the landscape in fluorescent pink jammers and Rohan have a history in hill-walking gear, relatively long and roomy, rather than the modern skintight Alpine look. 

The range is relatively small - this is not a fashion brand, after all - and quite expensive, so I treated myself first off to some bits in the 'souk' sale section.

First up, I was looking for a waterproof and lightweight country (not town) coat that comes below my knees. (I would've liked a longer one, but it was over 200 quid.) Why manufacturers haven't worked out that it rains in summer, I don't know. You can get great waterproof coats for winter, but in summer, you're stuffed if you want to keep anything below your knees dry. 

Rohan Windshadow Mac

I was looking specifically for a country colour in order to blend into the landscape and this sage green Windshadow mac in 'Conifer' is really nice - I can now nip behind a bush for a pee without alerting every passing driver to my presence. I also really like the fabric, which is a sort of dry, matte finish that I can't really describe. But what I wasn't prepared for was the weight, or lack of it. I didn't know, but Rohan are well known among the walking fraternity for the light weight of their clothing, and this coat weighs 240g, which is eight ounces. I hardly know I'm wearing it.

I expected to keep this coat for dog-walking and rambling but in fact I'm wearing it all the time because it's actually smart enough to wear in town after all. And it packs up so small and tiny that I can stuff it in a handbag for a quick pac-a-mac style coverup. By the way, it has a drawstring waist, so when I wear it, the shape is very different. 

Spark vest

I also wanted a country-colour gilet with a more waterproof finish than my fleece ones. I have a few soft fleece gilets from Lands' End but they are really only OK for indoors - when outside, you need a bit more slick if the rain hits you. They are also a bit too brightly coloured for hiking. The Spark gilet met these criteria - I got it in a nice chocolate brown colour, which is reversible, once you remove the label, to a sort of pinky-burgundy, though I don't actually see myself wearing that side. Once again, it weighs nothing - at 125g, it's like wearing a feather, which could be important when trekking back up a hill at the end of a long day.

My final purchase was a pair of thick fleece gloves, the Shivling, in a brighter colour. I go for brightly coloured gloves because they're easier to find when you drop them, is all. These are very thick and nice quality, so I will be getting more in the future.   

Rohan don't only make rambling clothing. They also make general travel clothes for town and country that repel mosquitoes, are uncreasable and can be washed out in the sink. Next on my wish list is their 'troggings', which are pull-on outdoor-fabric pants in a jogging style, which sound just about right for my shit-up-to-the-eyeballs life. 

 

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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.

 

A nip in the air

Autumn is approaching - time for fleece pyjamas

Mint pyjamas

The mornings are preternaturally beautiful at present. Now that our puppy is seven months old and can hold his bladder for the night, my getting-up time has gradually moved from around 5.30 to around 7.15. It's still pretty dark then but by the time I've walked the dogs up the lane to the chasse coops to do their business, the horizon is pink and orange, with blazing contrails bisecting the landscape. 

Our neighbour's field, which held summer barley, has been stubble for some time now and give a huge, wide view of the district - wooded hills to the east and south, the village to the north, hidden behind rows of poplars, and our garden, looking like a dense, solid woodland, to the south. I usually walk the mutts up here for 20 minutes or so in the low-lying tree mist, where they can chase the rabbits, skylarks, and any of our neighbour's chickens dumb enough to stray too far. 

It's on these mornings that I really notice the nip that has appeared in the air. A couple of days ago I washed my Squall Stadium coat from Land's End - one of the great things about these fleece-lined, quilted coats is that they are machine washable - but I have also noticed, the past few days, how the wind is starting to whistle right through my cotton jersey pyjama pants.

Peach pyjamas

Hence I've just splashed out on a couple of pairs of fleece PJs for the coming season. Only Ebay jobs, but they're very pretty and in the sort of boudoirish colours that I hope will tone with both my pink bedding and my naked face.

When it comes to PJs, I like a conventional cut with a proper button-front and collar, so that I can flip the collar up to keep my neck warm. It always strikes me as a terrible design flaw that almost all women's nightwear covers your body but leaves your neck, arms and shoulders exposed - the very places you need coverage. Personally, I tend sleep in a cashmere poloneck in winter, though I have just also bought the new Alize poloneck from Finisterre, which I think will be a useful weight and length. Then the PJs go on the morning. 

I am also pretty thrilled with my new bathrobe from German brand Otto Werner by WeWo Fashion. No? Means nothing to me either, but I found it a local shop - one of the few that is very pretty and elegant - and snapped it up even though it's a mans, too big and cost 112 euros. I was so fed up of my piece-of-shit Habitat bathrobe that snags and pulls at every verse end and which, although quite new, looks 20 years old. Let us hope this one lasts longer. 

I feel, though, that it will soon be pensioned off as a dressing gown in favour of my Lands' End down. We lit a fire a couple of nights ago, and it's starting to feel really quite chilly in the mornings, though we usually try to hold of using central heating until October. This weekend, though, it will be time to put the curtains back up. We manage without in summer, as we're not overlooked, but I'm starting to feel the night's black eyes staring at me round about 8.30 now, so the windows could do with a bit of sweetening.  

 

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Another one bites the dust

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