Fashion & Style

Fashion, style, trends, clothes, accessories, couture, ready-to-wear, wardrobe planning, classic styles, fashion icons, creating your look, decluttering your closet, shopping and advice on what works for you.


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.  



Another one bites the dust

I fear that one of my favourite labels has gone the way of all corporates

Anyone who has ever read this blog might have worked out that I'm a great fan of Lands' End. 

When you live in the countryside as I do, the order of priorities for clothing changes a great deal from when you live in the city. In town, it might be beauty, comfort, function, but out here, it's function, comfort, beauty - in that order.

Country clothing must, above all, be practical: if it looks nice, that's a bonus. I spend about nine months of the year trying to stay warm. I walk dogs, I get covered in mud, I scramble under barbed wire fences. I'm miles from a (very expensive) dry cleaner, so my clothes have to preferably be washable. The woodburner throws sparks, I cook two or three times a day.

Over the 18 years I've lived here, my clothes have therefore become less and less anything to do with fashion. Instead, I favour country labels such as Barbour and Orvis, and technical labels such as Craghopper's, Finisterre and Woolpower. A new discovery is Rohan (more of that later), but until now, I would have said Lands' End was my real go-to label for everyday, practical clothing that looks nice and suits my life.

I discovered Lands' End in 2011 when the DH bought the Insulated Squall Parka. It was a brilliant bit of kit - very lightweight, really warm, loads of pockets, including handwarmer pockets, a tough nylon shell that sloughs off the rain. It has an inner elasticated cuff to keep the draughts out, a two-way zip so you can undo it from top or bottom, a popper wind-stop closure and a removable hood. 

I immediately went out and bought myself the non-insulated version (which is still extremely warm) and this is my standard on-road dog-walking coat, in bright daffodil yellow. And over the next three years I've dropped many hundreds of pounds in Lands' End's direction in the shape of fleece tunics, gilets and trousers; Starfish cotton jersey pants and tops; and numerous coats.

The firm, which was private, was bought by Sear's in 2001 and there have been complaints ever since about the declining quality of the goods, but I hadn't had a problem and it's always with pleasure that I greet a new catalogue dropping through the post. This morning I read it, as usual, in the bath. But I was dismayed - it immediately became apparent that something was amiss.

There are no pictures of active women in the brochure. Time was, I used to flick through this thing and see women who looked somewhat like me, doing things similar to what I do - women walking their dogs, rambling through the countryside, boating, etc. Suddenly, instead, all the models are pictured against a featureless grey background, posed like models from any fashion catalogue. The text is about fashion, not about features. The clothes are about fashion, not about features. The older models are nowhere to be seen. I got almost to page 50 before I could find anything practical - these flimsy little garments aren't going to keep a girl warm in the autumn chill.

Is my favourite label finally going down the tube and turning into a fashion house? God help us, because there are more than enough of those already - the last thing we need is another one. When it comes to fashion, I am kind of choosy, and willing to pay a premium to a company like Wall for organic, fair-trade, limited-edition clothing with an artisan streak. But these supposedly fashionable Lands' End clothes look pretty frumpy to me and there's an awful lot of polyester appearing where it used to be pure cotton. 

What a disappointment. I know that the company has been struggling recently, but a rush to the bottom isn't the way to sort this out, when every supermarket can produce low-priced sweat-shop labour clothing for those who like that sort of thing. I will be gutted if this is yet another label I can no longer trust.  


Good and bad buys of 2013

You win some, you lose some.

Wall wrap top

Well, with the new year upon us, I thought I'd give a brief roundup of my fashion fails (and successes) in 2013. 

I'm planning a bourse for later this month, which should help to reduce my wardrobe a little, though now that I'm costuming short films, I also need to put things aside for that.

But for myself, my wardrobe is becoming ever-trimmer - mainly pull-on straight-leg pants, merino teeshirts and various top layers. 

In the spring, looking at my buying log (yes, I'm a nerd) it seems that I focused mainly on underwear, buying camisoles from M&S and various types of knickers. The knickers were mostly a disaster, other than my go-to pants, the Sloggi full brief. Europe's best-selling knickers, apparently, which made me feel a bit better about their hideous frumpiness. I now have about 10 pairs of these, in white, black and bright colours for a bit of cheer - great knickers, which are smooth, comfy and which don't climb up your butt crack as you move around. 

In the spring I also bought the first of my Eddy tees, which are now the staple tee in my wardrobe. They have the perfect neckline, a lovely skinny fit and the fine, dense merino fabric is a joy to wear. I've bought one whenever I could afford one (they're £45) and now have half a dozen. 

Other purchases were much less successful: I bought several pairs of trousers from Lands' End that I had to send back as the fit on every pair was hopeless; some of the camisoles from M&S were OK and I wear them a lot, but others, in lace, have remained unworn, and two were such odd shapes on me that I gave them to a friend's daughter. The lace knickers I got from M&S were utterly hopeless. I also repeatedly tried to order boots, without success at all, unable to find any wide enough in the calf to get up my sturdy swimmer's legs. 

seersucker dress

In the summer, I had a little splurge on dresses. The style that suits me best is vintage - a very shaped v-neck dress with a small waist and a full, A-line skirt. This seersucker Thelma Ritter-style shirtwaist could have been designed on my body, it fits so well. It has little shoulder pads made from the same fabric and I just love the clever use of stripes. A blue and brown shirtwaist I also bought is lighter in weight, in fine, crisp cotton and I also bought loosecut linen dresses from Orvis, which are very different - a blue one is superb quality in thick, heavy linen with a lovely drape, while a pink one is much lighter weight. I like both of them, though, and in the August heat, they proved invaluable as, having sleeves, they could be worn without a cardigan, giving that lovely feeling of having only one layer of clothing between you and the outside world. 

In the summer sales, I also stocked up on basic winter items, such as a poloneck fleece and fleece trousers from Lands' End, winter snow boots (bought the wrong size, like an idiot) and winter walking boots. The boots are fab but there's no point in showing them here, nor the trainers I bought, as they've been discontinued. They are, however, the footwear I wear on a daily basis, as my feet are now very painful with plantar fasciitis.

Orvis jumper dress

I also bought a couple of Orvis jumper dresses, thinking to wear them over a poloneck sweater in winter, but they turned out to be hopelessly frumpy. If I ever want to channel my inner Amish girl, they might come in handy, but otherwise, into the costume pile they go. And a wrap linen dress from Hobbs, and a blue linen jacket from Adini both ended up with my friend M, having proved way too big for me to wear, due to poor descriptions by Ebay vendors. 

Autumn found me buying merino vests and leggings from Finisterre in anticipation of winter. The vests are fabulous and I've worn them to death - slim-fitting, long and very comfortable. The leggings, not so much - too short in the rise by half, so I won't buy those again. I also bought a few pieces from Wall, such as the wrap top at top left, in my usual cotton jersey, and was able to enjoy wearing them before the temperatures dropped enough to make cotton an unattractive proposition. Wall is my go-to brand for 'posh' now. Among the items I got (a tenner on Ebay) was a pair of charcoal fine wool trousers, lined to the knee, tailored, with an elasticated waist and side zip. These have proved incredibly useful - they go with a nice Eddy tee and cashmere cardi for lunch outings, and can be topped with a sparkly cardi or urushi haori for evening. They are completely uncreasable and I've worn them for nearly every event over the Christmas season, as well as for trips into town. 

Dorothy Perkins boots

I also bought some boots in the autumn, as well as reheeling and resoling my existing 1990s boots at massive expense. Successes include a pair of burgundy leather mid-calf boots from Hogl and a turquoise suede pair from Rockport. Disasters include a brown suede pair from Monsoon, a burgundy suede pair from Dorothy Perkins and a black leatherette pair from Ebay, all of which proved way too tight on the apple of the calf, due to my gastrocnemius being too well developed. I have now given up on long boots altogether unless I can actually try them on - and at French prices, that will mean waiting a long time, as I doubt I'd find anything under 200 euros in this neck of the woods, even if I could find any wide enough. 

Aran Crafts merino sweater

Late autumn found me on holiday and thus able to enjoy the rare experience of buying something in an actual shop rather than online. Having saved my pennies, I jumped on this beautiful hooden aran cardigan from Irish firm Aran Crafts (the DH bought it for me in the end), and a brilliant wool and fleece toque-style hat from Armor-Lux, which I've lived in ever since. I also bought a new Armor-Lux tee in grey and black stripe, to wear in the spring. Armor-Lux tees are a big investment at 55 euros a pop, and I haven't bought one for two years. For daily wear, though, I've found the Essential Crewneck Tee from Boden to be very good - I bought three of their grey ones in the summer, and tried to buy more recently, but found they were out of stock. A shame, as I loathe summer-weight tees and prefer my cotton to be substantial. 

Oxford collar cardi

Come winter, I bought myself a cardigan I've had my eye on for a long time - this long, Oxford-collar lambswool cardigan from Woolovers (but in black). It ticked all the right boxes: long, pockets, pearl buttons, etc, and I thought would prove a good replacement for my ageing grey cashmere boyfriend cardigan, which is now about 15 years old. It was a disaster. Not only was the fabric rough and the cut very roomy, on the following day I broke out in a rash around my neck that has taken weeks to heal - I'm guessing something like formaldehyde on the surface. I've since washed the garment twice and aim to do it twice more before risking wearing it again.  

Chastened by this experience, I headed back once again to Finisterre. This small, niche company has been the principal beneficiary of my spending this year, not in terms of items but in terms of money, as each piece is relatively expensive. I've bought the Eddy tee in black, grey, beige, jade, blue and pink; the Eddy longline in pink (wish I'd bought grey, as a more useful colour); the new Fiske heavyweight tee in navy (should have gone down a size); the Fiske hoody in teal; a man's Portland Henley in burgundy (hideous on me - will have to dye it grey); vests, leggings and even Portland men's boxers in merino (fabulously comfortable). 

At the close of the year, I bought more thermals - the 200 zip-neck top and leggings in red, from Swedish specialist Woolpower, which are merino woolmix with a towellette-weave inner surface, fantastic for bitter weather. Of course, following that, it's been mild and our alterations to the house have made it the warmest we've ever been, so I haven't worn the leggings at all (in fact, I'm not wearing thermals this winter, which is unheard-of). But there they are, for a rainy, or vicious day, just waiting to embrace me with their woolly softness. 

Leopardskin coatTeal velvet vintage coat

And finally, ahead of the party season, I went for some new coats (well, new vintage). This velvet leopard print with black collar and cuffs, is fabulously chic and has gorgeous buttons; my second purchase, a golden corduroy that looked great in the photos was a hideous mess in real life and turned out to be shabby and frumpy - in an almost unprecendented step, I sent it back to the vendor despite the high cost of postage; but the third, this deep teal velvet, is really lovely and almost psychogically replaces my old green one which my psycho ex-boyfriend destroyed 30 years ago. 




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Costuming a movie

I've just been doing the costumes for our second movie, Albert.

Outdoor gear

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

Pink is the new black

Pink coats are apparently the in thing this year, much to the rage of some commentators.

Thermals on...

It's that time of year again.

Customer service

Excellent service again from Finisterre

Boots made for walking

Why are decent boots so hard to find?

Remembrance of clothes past

I can remember these clothes, but not this event.

Autumn colours

Even though the weather's still warm, I notice I'm changing colours with the season.

Frosty tips

Jesus, the temperatures have dropped...

Wonderous Wall

I have been stocking up at one of my favourite vendors.