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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Just spottted. It's the 1980s. Again

Looking Our Best has it on good style authority that the decade that put the nasty in Dynasty is one of the retro trends this Autumn. Tsk. It’s enough to make us feel old.
LOB vividly remembers the fashion horror of those neon hued, big shoulder padded days,  and greets news of a revival pretty much the same way that a Ryanair cabin crew member might on hearing that Gerard Depardieu has booked another flight to Dublin. One strong look from the early 1980s that baby boomers will recall is leopard print, mainly in sweaters, shirts and jackets and teamed with leather skirts or ski pants (yes, unfortunately).  Although LOB has always been of the opinion that leopard print looks best on the leopard itself, she concedes that it has abiding appeal for many of her stylish sisters.  To avoid referencing Corrie’s Bet Lynch, the trick is to restrict the autumn wardrobe to just one or two pieces. LOB’s prowl through the new season’s collections has spotted variations on the big cat trend that are flattering for grown-ups, such as this leopard print wrap dress from Hobbs (€100 approx) pictured above.  Alternatively, these L.K. Bennett sling backs

could be just the thing for stalking in while also updating a favourite LBD. (Although the hefty price tag - €255 approx will have you needing to sit down again).   The Hepburn bag by Aspinall is equally gasp inducing in price but rather, er,  purr-fect.

So, 80s leopard print? Maybe. Leg-warmers? No way. Not even if they keep the chilblains at bay...

Ultra Stylish Person of the month   .... 

Looking Our Best is acutely aware that citing Helen Mirren as a stylish role model for women of a certain age is now a right royal cliché. Especially in the tabloids, bless ‘em, where they love proclaiming her with headlines of dubious complimentary worth such as ‘oh look, she can still wear a swimsuit even though she’s got a bus pass’. Alright you red tops, lets be ‘aving you – as DCI Jane Tennison might say. Because the Prime Suspect star and woman who played The Queen with even more imperious majesty than Liz the second herself, is a grown up USP for much more than being able to get in and out of a swimming pool at age 66. Rumour has it that when she makes one of her frequent and dazzling appearances on the red carpet, she’s not necessarily advertising a five-figure sum gown for some designer, either.  On one occasion, when the zip broke on her couture get-up, she reputedly wore a £7 thrift shop dress kept on standby.  "I love second-hand shops," she has been quoted, adding,
"Or I make my own clothes because I've never found the kinds of things I liked. My mother taught me how to work a sleeve." Truly, when it comes to looking a million dollars on a tight budget, there is nothing like a Dame ...

Words of the style wise .... 

Speaking of 80s fashion, and women who can still rock a leopard print jacket, LOB can’t wait to have a read of The World According to Joan. In a new book, the inimitable Joan Collins (78),  has decided to reveal her style and beauty secrets to a breathless nation with all the accepted grouchiness that is one of the joys of ageing.  Whatever of the big shoulder pads, our Joanie has no time for big waistbands, with the alarming warning that the overweight “are digging their graves with their own teeth." Eeow.

Pulled over by the fashion police ...

LOB is loving the re-run of Danish thriller The Killing (Forbrydelsen) nightly on BBC4, just ahead of the new series. We now know whodunnit, while Sofie Grabol, who plays unflappable leading investigator Sarah Lund, has also explained the mysterious appeal of her rather homely woolly jumper – an unlikely fashion trend.  “Everybody wanted that sweater," she told The Observer. "The company in the Faroe Islands couldn't keep up. We had a costume meeting and I saw that sweater and thought: 'That's it!” The reason it's so perfect is because it tells so many stories. It tells of a person who doesn't use her sexuality – that's a big point. Lund's so sure of herself she doesn't have to wear a suit. She's at peace with herself." Just the thing to stay warm while running through that bleak, November landscape.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

T'hat's lovely

When it comes to hats, women divide into three categories: regular wearers; eccentric aristocrats; and those for whom having to don one is the equivalent of a bungee jump (only more terrifying).  The only place you will see all such women congregated at the one time is at a wedding.  The first two categories carry millinery off with aplomb.
But the woman who feels obliged to acknowledge the special occasion by plonking the equivalent of a flying saucer on her head is the one who stands out.  It’s not just that she’s blocking the view of the happy couple. Guests can sense her discomfort simply because the other 364 days of the year she’s more likely to wear a suit of armour than an enormous hat. Wearing hats wasn’t always such a challenge. A century ago, no respectable woman (or man) of any class left the house without one – to  do so meant you needed your head examined, so to speak. In the 1950s, the headscarf took over  – look at those old photos of mothers and grandmothers and the scarf is as ubiquitous as the daisy bell bicycle.

Now, we’ve come over surprisingly coy about headgear – even when our little skulls are anaesthetized during Arctic snaps. Rare attempts at style nonchalance – almost always at a wedding – are as convincing as a media mogul’s apology. There’s always the lesser evil of the feathery ‘fascinator’ of course, but Looking Our Best must confess a slight aversion here, not least because that name is surely ironic?  In the wrong hands, fashion’s solution for the millinery challenged can end up looking like a pigeon has just dropped a mess on top of your head. Even in the best hands (i.e. our own Philip Treacy) ‘ridicule’ can closely follow ‘millinery’ in the fashion dictionary, as shown at the royal wedding in April when the biggest talking point wasn’t Kate’s frock, but Bea's hat. 
Even though she ended up donating it to a charity auction, Treacy stuck up for the grand old Duke of York’s daughter against fashion blogs criticising her look (and using some right royal swearing when he was at it). “She is only 22, and there was a little bit of bullying going on. I didn't give a f**k about 140,000 bloggers. In the future, we'll look back and think she looked wild.” It should be remembered that Treacy also created 35  headwear designs for other royal wedding guests, and to much more approval from the fashion cognoscenti.
(Zara Phillip, here, and Sophia Winkleman (otherwise known as Lady Frederick Windsor) at the top of the post, both resplendent in designs by Galway's famous hatter). 
But what is the answer for us less posh wedding guests who rarely, if ever, wear hats?  Over again to Mairead Fullam, from the personal shopping team at Debenhams (and who LOB quotes in the previous post). Size matters, so basically, if you are petite, opt for a fascinator or very small hat, she says.  We tall people, on the other hand, should think big.  (Although 5’ 10” LOB finds having to wear a huge hat encourages small children to attach ribbons and dance round her singing about the ‘May-Oh’)  How the hat is placed on the head makes a huge difference, says Mairead.  “A lot of people simply don’t know how to wear a hat, and make the mistake of placing it too far back on their head. It’s more flattering to place it right on top, and also to tilt it slightly at an angle.”  
(Miriam Gonzales Durantes,  wife of British Liberal party leader Nick Clegg, does the tilt to perfection in her black turban with oversized coral flowers, pictured at the Royal Wedding.) 
As for the side effect of obligatory wedding hat wearing – the dreaded ‘helmet hair’ –LOB’s solution is to pretend you’re the Queen, and keep it on right throughout the reception. Keeping it on while dancing into the wee small hours, however, might look a little odd. On the plus side, boogie-ing on down while balancing something the size of a cartwheel on your head will label you as eccentric. Which, in hat wearing terms, means you are now a natural....

(All pics by Getty Images) 

Looking Our Best praises vintage headwear, as worn by iconic l960s model Jean Shrimpton:

 'The Shrimp', in stiffened net picture hat by Madame Paulette, photographed by John French, 1963

At Melbourne Races, 1965, and also modelling the emerging 'mini'skirt (Getty Images)

A woman who could wear a sombrero without looking like a cheesy tourist
... and who also had a way with a patterned scarf

The youthful 1960s take on the formerly matronly headscarf (John French, Victorian & Albert Museum prints) 

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Beef or salmon?' Just so long we're not mutton dressed as lamb

What to wear, what to wear? And must there be a hat?  It can only be those two words that are loaded with foreboding for the stylistically challenged mid-lifer   – Wedding Invite.
Is it okay to wear black? Is it pushing your luck to wear white? Or should you go in the new Nude – that fleshy/blush shade which, confusingly, has been designated ‘the new black’ by the fashion police over the past year? (Although such pressing dilemmas give Looking Our Best another opportunity to select images of the most stylish guests at April's royal wedding for illustration).

Karen Gordon, (pictured above) , the third Mrs Earl Spencer, does the whole 'blush' colour with understated elegance, while  'nude' shoes were also in evidence on the day, as worn by Charlene Wittstock (below) with a pale blue coat and matching hat. 

At this stage, those of us of the Boomer generation should have the whole special occasion dressing thing down to a (G and) T. But each time the pleasure of LOB’s company is requested at some important do or other, the first instinct, unfortunately, is to rush out and buy Something New. And just what is left out there for the mature, fiscally challenged woman in this summer of 2011 with its attendant fashion horrors of jump suits, girly little prom dresses,  and - surely someone’s having a laugh -  saggy harem pants?
If there's time to buy online, labels with a highly individual style such as Anthropologie (  have come up with their own summer wedding guest looks, one of which, 'Rustic Church',  is shown at the top of this post  in their 'sea nettle' print shift dress, matching wrap, slender  hoop earrings and nude toned court shoes. Very simple, very elegant, whatever your age.
There is always the alternative of Something Borrowed – a Something one friend in need resorted to when faced with an unexpected nuptials invitation. Things had already got off to a bad start on the big day in question, as the edgy location led to a row between herself and her husband who was concerned about his company car – a concern which may have been justified when they arrived outside the church and a bunch of ten year olds circled his new Beamer with the re-assurance: ‘Howya Mister, we’ll mind yer car for  ye.’ That wasn’t the only friction - the wedding suit the friend borrowed comprised culottes (well, it was a little while ago) which were two sizes too small and a challenge to wear without grimacing. 
In these times when it’s not only the nation’s credit rating which is relegated to junk status, but the contents of most of LOB’s wardrobe, another friend – ultra stylish but cash-strapped M - has come up with a solution in the Something Old category. As she sensibly says regarding wedding attire,  most of us grown-ups have at least a couple of favourite dresses languishing in the wardrobe, while the problem of their being worn previously, but now somewhat dated, is solved by a service provided by most of the major chain stores. Ta-dah! Enter the Personal Shopper!  The exclamation marks are the friend’s, because here, LOB must hold up her hand to say she has been less than enthusiastic about the whole assisted, up close and personal shopping thing in the past, feeling it’s just a ploy to shift stock to the sartorially bewildered. Over to M, to convince otherwise...
“ I had a wedding invite but didn't have the money to splash out on something new and exclusive. I could afford something new if it fitted within my limited budget  but the downside of that is  that there could be someone else in the same outfit if I bought it off the rails.
Also I had tried on a number of dresses in the middle-aged section of a number of department stores and they made me look very matronly whereas the dresses I had already made me look comparatively okay.”
She decided to bring two dresses she liked in her wardrobe along to a personal shopper in Debenhams and see if they could be updated– M’s  thinking being that if she wore a sufficiently old dress, no one else would be in it, so to speak.
“The personal shopper understood the limitations of my budget but also reassured that either dress would look fine; one was vintage and wouldn't date,  and the other - despite being over ten years old – still looked  current. She suggested that with new shoes, and a little bolero top and a hat - which she rushed off and found in the shop - one would be instantly ready to wear; and that the other just needed a really elegant chiffon wrap, a fascinator and high fashion shoes. I was impressed that she really listened to what I wanted, came up with stylish ideas – but  without coming on with any hard sell . It was also a nicer experience to look at everything in the privacy of a really spacious dressing room. ”
LOB spoke to Mairead Fullam, one of the personal shopping  team at Debenhams, Henry Street, who creates capsule wardrobes, but also assures that customers are welcome to bring in existing items in their wardrobes to be styled up with accessories.  Not surprisingly, how to find a flattering but fashionable look to wear to a wedding presents a challenge for customers of all ages, and especially “the 40 plus woman”.
What is the biggest issue among mid-lifers who want to look elegant?

“Most women are concerned about their arms. Revealing dresses with thin, spaghetti straps, or with very deeply cut armholes,  can be difficult to carry off, so I would suggest wearing a little see through bolero as a stylish cover-up for upper arms. ”  A trend, very much in evidence at April’s royal wedding, is for matching coats worn over dresses.

Carole Middleton, in Something Blue, helped dispel the inverted commas of the oft derided  'mother of the bride' fashion cliche in her updated dress and coat look on the day. There's no doubt a matching coat  solves the problem of over exposure to the elements – and to the more conservative church-goer. Grown up guests who want to stand out – but in a good way – should  avoid very big patterns, says Mairead.  “Something very bold may be too flashy in photographs – and can even look dated. White is strictly for the bride in my book, although you can get away with cream and contrasting accessories. The nude shade actually looks good on almost everyone and is surprisingly flattering. Overall, I feel weddings are not as stuffily formal these days. Having a dress and accessories all strictly matching is no longer an unwritten rule. It can even be ageing. “

Shown here is a sequin tunic dress from the Betty Jackson range at Debenhams (€89).  Another potential wedding option for those who prefer longer hemlines is Jasper Conran's midi length wave pattern dress from the J Collection (€113).

 The personal shopping service is available at select branches of Debenhams, seven days a week. A free one hour consultation can be booked online.  So there it is – LOB takes her hat off to the personal shopper (although can you guess what the next post will be about???)

(Royal Wedding pics, all Getty Images) 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Rock star chic? Their Satanic Majesties, plus Anita and Marianne, showed how it was done 40 years ago

Feverish excitement this week as the nation’s youth, bless their little €11 Penneys wellies,  get set for Oxegen. An early warning should be flagged here for any of them who’re lost and have accidently strayed on to the Looking Our Best blog – turn away now kids, for the grown-ups are in the It Was Far Better In Our Day zone.  Those inevitable ‘festival chic’ features in the papers cast a nostalgic spell for us mid-lifers, especially when comparing the somewhat safe sartorial garb of today’s rock stars with their wilder predecessors. 
(Keith Richard and Anita Pallenberg) 
On the 5th July, 1969, The Rolling Stones held a free concert in London’s Hyde Park, and although Looking Our Best was barely out of ankle socks at the time and only saw the pictures on the telly, the images from that event fixed in her impressionable mind the conviction of the 60s as being dangerously glamorous.
(Rock fan, Hyde Park, photography by Frank Habricht)
 It wasn’t just the parameters of music and fashion blurring, but male and female dress  –in this case, the white dress worn on stage by Mick Jagger.

But back then, male rock stars (and their fans) strutting their stuff in frills and lace had become the norm.  Men's fashion allowed for self expression in a fanciful manner probably not seen since the Regency era. Looking at last week’s Glastonbury festival, LOB’s abiding  image of headliners is less of the colourful dandy but just  Chris Martin in a sweaty old T-shirt and The Edge in his knitted monkey hat.‘Conventional’ is not a word often used in a sentence referencing rock, but contemporary bands, by and large, look quite conformist to baby boomer eyes.   Fashion for the young in the 60s was like a religion, but one with a subversive edge to it – and no-one did it quite like their Satanic Majesties. Though not exactly pretty, Mick and ‘Keef’ championed the whole androgynous thing without risk of running into an ugly situation. 

(Pictured here with Mick Taylor, the replacement for Brian Jones) 
In their  kaftans, floral shirts, floppy hats, scarves and jewellery , they gave girlfriends Marianne Faithfull (photographed at the concert with her son Nicholas, below) and Anita Pallenberg a run for their money.  

The rock star girlfriends in turn adopted the trend for wearing trouser suits – particularly favoured by  Swedish fashion model Anna Wohlin (the then girlfriend of Brian Jones, and pictured here in Tangier, 1967 ).

As it turned out,  The Stones in the Park was to become the memorial to Jones, who had been found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool around midnight on the 2nd July, aged just 27.   Romantics also saw the concert as the demise of flower power itself – especially as most of the hundreds of white butterflies which were to be released symbolically for Jones failed to flutter off into the London skies.  Yesterdays burgeoning rock fans have now become today's parents, but are unlikely  to fret  over the old chestnut as to whether they could let their daughters marry a Rolling Stone. Nor are they given occasion to  tut-tut over outrageous rock star garb.  You can’t really picture Bono rocking a white dress, can you? It’s a lovely image though...

(All pics on blog are by Getty Images, unless otherwise stated)

Friday, 1 July 2011

Staying PC when it comes to a right royal bargain

Bargain hunting during the sales is the most fun you can have even when the last thing you need is more clothes. It’s a primal rite of summer, where the hunter-gatherer  tracks down, captures and brings back that bargain trophy to her lair. There is a very fine line (as discussed in Wednesday’s blog between what is a genuine find and those other unworn ‘bargains’ glaring accusingly at you whenever you open your over-stuffed wardrobe. But it’s during the sales that us grown women are separated from the girls, when, ahem,  age and maturity inspire classic purchases rather than rash impulse buying. Unfortunately, being separated from the girls also means that that true bargain buy is only left in a girly size 8.
Still, Looking Our Best uses this time of year to venture beyond her natural habitat into more unchartered territory (the designer floor, Brown Thomas, in other words). As LOB found yesterday evening, there are classics here that won’t scream summer 2011, both for aspiring young duchesses and mature commoners alike. Timeless black dresses by Joseph (reduced to around the €120 mark) caught LOB’s gimlet eye. In the Paul Costelloe section (an enduring LOB favourite) , there was no sign of Carole Middleton. As we know, the royal mother in law is a big fan of our Paul (as is young Mrs William herself, apparently). But the former air hostess and queen of Party Pieces didn’t get where she is by forking out full price for designer style and (as reported in today’s Irish Independent   she snapped up this fuchsia print dress 

in the sales in London for €132,  and sported it at Wimbledon yesterday. 

Whatever of floral patterns, white linen has become something of a summer cliché for us mid-lifers, but the  knee length dress (at top of the blog)  by the royal favourite,  with pleat detail, roomy side pockets, belt and cap sleeves, now reduced (from €185) to €129, is a comfortably elegant variation on the look.   100% linen (as well as silk and pure new wool) is a Costelloe signature and other classic linens in the sale are these chalky white trousers, 

now €89 (approx) , which are less baggy and more flattering than similar styles elsewhere. 

The tailored linen shirt with plaquet front comes in a flattering shade of sky blue, €109 (approx) and would work well with those simple trousers. LOB’s favourite among the reductions is this more expensive (and isn’t it always) tailored black jacket, now €149 (down from €279). 

In wool crepe, with striped silk lining, the jacket is slightly fitted with gentle pleating at the back waist to give a feminine line. This is the sort of  purchase that eventually pays for itself because you will wear it consistently (or so the theory goes).  Costelloe’s mantra has been that he designs clothes for ‘real women’ and which bear just a passing nod to the whims of fashion. As for Carole Middleton, the choices of the 56 year old are increasingly scrutinised by the style  police who insist on strict application of the ‘mutton monitor’ (  For now, her adherence to PC (Paul Costelloe) should keep the critics happy. After all, she’s stopped chewing gum...

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Loud pants, fast returns - it must be the summer sales

Thwack. Grunt. Thud. Screech.  At various intervals yesterday,  it sounded like Maria Sharapova was in Marks & Spencer’s Mary Street store for the start of the summer sales. The packed rails screeched, hangers thudded on the floor, determined bargain hunters craned their necks to spot the 50% drop shots.  Looking Our Best grunted in dismay – for a moment it seemed she had fallen foul of that regular sale misfortune  – having bought something  two weeks previously only now to find it annoyingly marked down. Phew, her simple white linen dress remains full price for the moment. (And still waiting its first outing – oh, sustained heatwave, when will you come?)
The wise woman’s advice for sale shopping is either to opt only for classic items .... or avoid altogether. But those timeless garments that are the back bone of any wardrobe are generally gone come summer clearance, and what’s left is the high fashion stuff that didn’t sell.  So come on down, you colour blocked tops in livid purple and tomato red with no volume control.  Show your face, you punishing jeggings. Lovely floaty maxis, hanging self-consciously on the rails, you know you’re really only suitable for sunnier climes and not for trailing around our wet city streets? Lisa Snowdon, pictured at the top of the blog, does look lovely in her paisley print maxi dress. But she already has two more in that wardrobe - and that’s a lot of fabric to contend with in LOB’s book.  Just when are you going to wear them, Lisa? Which is exactly what mid-lifers should honestly ask ourselves if tempted. As some of us remember wearing maxis back when we were just past the age of consent, they are probably best to avoid second time around.
All of which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a peek in M & S’s current womenswear sale  - we can do with a little retail therapy away from grim recession reality, while remaining prudent, that is. But even those seasoned style seekers among us find it hard to resist the impulse buy, especially when it’s knocked down.  LOB and a fellow shopper were almost knocked down near the packed dress rail in the Per Una section, but we did get a brief moment to admire a smart little navy shift dress with polka dot collar, reduced to €35 (originally €53). Could be a classic, we agreed, though getting into the fitting room to try it on looked like queuing  for centre court tickets. There's something about bargain hunting that means normal rules are abandoned.   The usually discreet can become alarmingly un-inhibited at the prospect of saving a few bob. Over in the separates section, women  were peeling off layers to try on marked down knits and cotton shirts. LOB  spied one resolute bargain hunter indulging in a risky practice she herself is guilty of – trying on trousers underneath a skirt in full view of the public. Not for the shrinking violet who fears giving fellow shoppers an eye-full. (Imagine the laughs they have in the security screening rooms).  Meanwhile, it was those summer shirts, in variations of floral and gingham prints, which were a big hit yesterday morning.  (LOB especially likes the pale grey classic shirt in very fine linen (marked down to €16) which also comes in pale peach.)
Amongst all the swivelling and scrutinising in front of the store’s mirrors was a blonde haired grown-up in canary yellow Capri pants. She was trying on a turquoise and white checked shirt. We both decided that at €16, it was a bargain (although it clashed horribly with the loud pants). LOB - who should know better – but got caught up in the frenzy, was debating the wardrobe essentialness of one of those short knitted (boleros? shrugs?) that M & S feature in myriad variety every summer. She has never previously succumbed to the temptation of one of these, normally seeing them as the scatter cushions of the fashion world. But, whispered the reckless shopping demon,  this little number in serviceable beige would disguise the mature bingo wings when wearing strappy dresses or tops. You’ll never wear it, countered the inner adult coldly. Lets ask blonde, loud Capri pant woman for her opinion.  It’s only €23, suggested LOB. To which came the reply that anyone seduced by sales should adapt as their mantra.  “It’s not a bargain if you are not going to wear it.”  Reader, I left the damn thing back on the rail....

Monday, 20 June 2011

Colour blocking - summer trend, or art for all ages?

 Style isn’t all waffling on about frocks. Which is why Looking Our Best wants to demonstrate links with what is touted as the big fashion trend of summer, i.e. colour blocking, with two fascinating art exhibitions she visited over the weekend. A kind of brag post, if you will.
Vivid colours are something a lot of women of a certain age are wary of. We generally prefer to see them on generously proportioned canvases rather than our own ample, mid-life bodies. So here comes the art history bit.  There are intrinsic links between fashion and art - although most of us would be taxed to find one between little Cheryl Cole and the Aesthetic Movement of the latter half of the 19th century.  But the primary colours of her much commented on ensemble of coral top, turquoise waist clinching belt, and violet trousers (worn for her arrival in Los Angeles last month) 
came to mind when LOB visited The Cult of Beauty, a major exhibition currently running (until mid July) in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The labyrinthine interior of the V & A proved a haven away from the torrential rain last Friday – and also kept LOB a safe distance from the summer sales. This exhibition, funnily enough, features the work of artists who also wanted an escape – in this case the ‘ugliness and materialism’ of Victorian England.  It includes many of the paintings of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which capture the Art for Art’s Sake mission of the Aesthetic Movement. Prominently featured are heavily romanticized portraits of dreamy young women, clothed in jewel coloured dresses of a vaguely medieval style such as in the painting, ‘Laus Veneris’ by Edward Burne-Jones (1868).
Several of the artists went so far as to design flowing gowns, made to be worn without restricting corsets, and which draped luxuriously.  Like Cole and her extended big hair, the pale young models in these pictures have abundant tresses. But again it was colour, as much as quantity, that inspired the painters who became fixated on ethereal redheads such as Lizzie Siddal and Jane Morris. The peacock, with its vivid blue and gold decorative plumage, became a recurring symbol, and can be seen in the wallpapers and textiles of William Morris, and also the signature prints in kimonos and embroidered bags beginning to appear in Liberty. LOB of course can never quite resist the temptation of any gallery shop and the V & A has a blue, pure silk, peacock feather print ‘Hera’ scarf from Liberty as part of the exhibition. 
The Regent Street store itself currently has up to 60% off its classic scarves - but they are still pricey little gems (the cheapest one spotted was £49). 

Back in Dublin on Sunday, LOB had a look at a new exhibition of the work one of her favourite artists. The Art Books of Henri Matisse (running at the Chester Beatty Library until 25th September) features much of his later works, including illustrations for a limited edition of Ulysses. The etchings, with their simple lines and flowing forms, undoubtedly inspired subsequent fashion illustrators, and also the cut-outs he used when he became to ill to paint or draw. 

 But it’s his signature cobalt blues, along with vivid greens and hot tangerines, that dazzle the viewer. 
For a moment, LOB felt she was standing at the window of a sun soaked villa in Nice, rather than an artificially lit museum in grey, rainy Dublin. “A colorist makes his presence known even in a single charcoal drawing,”  Matisse famously said. For those of us grown-up style-seekers averse to the whims of fashion trends, looking at art which endures, rather than wearing it,  is way plenty in terms of colour blocking this summer.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Blooming lovely for Bloom days

“... would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me and yes I said yes I will Yes.”   It was all a bit like that when Looking Our Best, in a fit of midsummer madness, clasped a full length floral chiffon skirt to her feverish bosom in TK Maxx. The date  was still only June 3rd, so not quite Bloomsday, but LOB was momentarily overcome by the heat and the heady flowery prints cramming the rails.  With a vision of herself in this romantic garment, wafting around her back garden like Vita Sackville West carrying a trug filled with white roses, she  promptly marched to the till and forked out the requisite 20 quid.  As anyone who has ever succumbed to the impulse buy knows, doubt begins to creep in on the way home. In the bedroom at LOB Towers, reality descended like a black cloud .   If a grown-up woman genuinely wants a brutally honest answer to the question – ‘Am I too old for this?”, a closely related twenty-something will give her the brutally honest answer.  One scathing  look was thrown at the now dowdy looking thing lying on the bed. “Yes”. LOB’s usual good taste had deserted her. She hadn’t even tried the thing on. It was completely see-through.  It had an elasticated waist, for God’s sake.   

Back to Bloomsday, and now it's almost here, your style blogger thought she would not only have yet another go at reading the most famous book most people have never read, but also explore the current trend for blooming prints and their flatter potential for the well dressed mid-lifer.  That's why, in  honour of the 16th of June being among the  most renowned days in the literary calendar, she is striving to forge a link too with Molly Bloom’s earthy soliloquy and fleeting summer fashion. Not easy - other than to say there are almost as many flowery frocks out there as there are dirty bits in Ulysses.

The rather lovely white and grey rose printed dress featured here  is called Sasha by Phase Eight (approx €148), and was tried on in Brown Thomas earlier this month. 
While it fulfils the grown-ups rule of sticking to just two colours when it comes to strong patterns, LOB is just a tad too grown up to carry such a pretty print and had to admit defeat when it came to any convincing attempt at Betty Draper elegance.  Elsewhere, similar, very  full skirted dresses with belts also proved a no-no on LOB’s decidedly un-girly frame (not to mention the discovery these are now referred to as ‘prom dresses’.  Hell-o?).  

In Monsoon, the ‘Meadow’ white tunic dress (€127, pictured here), although printed with big blooms, looked classily grown-up because the boldness in pattern is tempered by less fabric in it’s simple shift style.   Likewise, the silk black, white and pink dress from Elegance (€226, at the top of the blog) is demurely knee  length,  softly tied at the waist, and has a very flattering neckline. 

The neckline, and also the way fabric is draped, has a bearing on just how flattering a dress can be, and while the ‘Freya’ design from the Mint Velvet range shown here (€79) has a lot going on with all of those butterflies, 

 the pleating from the empire waistline down to the hankercheif hem, plus deep V neck and extended shoulder gives a great shape to those of us graced with what is known politely as the fuller figure. Speaking of butterflies, rather than blooms, this silk shirt (€180) 
rather than a full blown dress, might be the way for the shrinking (and slowly wilting) violets among us to give a nod to fashion this summer.  (The  white jeans worn by the model could be stretching it a bit, though  - even for Liz Hurley ).  An alternative is the classic pencil skirt we grown-ups all know and love, updated here (£135)  in blooming cottage garden glory, 
and worn with a white T-shirt. Both it and the silk shirt above are from the current Elegance range online.

All prices quoted here are approximate, (and some  pricey) but the summer sales are about to go into full swing, so check out the websites linked in for any discounts.
As for LOB’s chiffon floral maxi, it was promptly returned to TK Maxx, but this time, an extra €50 was added to the refunded €20, and she is now the proud owner of a classic white leather bag. What we like to call an investment buy.  It’s by Edina Ronay, and big enough to hold all of LOB’s paraphernalia – including that new, two inch thick, 682 page copy of Ulysses. (€2.99 from the bargain section in Hodgis Figgis)  And, in case you are wondering, the nice (grown-up) salesman admitted he’s never been able to finish the damned book either ... 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Bare legged chic - or sheer (horror) tights?

Urgent text from close pal in London: “I want to know: what to wear on my legs now that I’m not comfortable going barelegged yet don't want to expire from heatstroke?  Help, LOB, help!”  It’s a problem Looking Our Best has yet to solve, especially as the sight of her own  venous, putty coloured pins exposed out on the public thoroughfare has small children screaming in fright. Enter the key words ‘going bare legged after fifty’ into Google and you’ll discover a hotly debated topic. Grown-up women exposing their less than firm white flesh come summer is seen as inappropriate as wearing a pink towelling tracksuit with a sparkly logo across the backside. Even the Wall Street Journal deliberated over the bare legs issue stating that for women who entered the work force before the 1990s, (that’s us, mid-lifers), hose is considered "as necessary as underwear". They don't need to tell us about the FT (Fake Tan) index, as we all know that applying biscuit scented gunge is a tiresome palaver. And all that required waxing, exfoliating, pummeling, moisturising, followed by standing around to dry off, has LOB's previously neglected legs considering suing for harassment. The consensus on several beauty blogs is that the well dressed woman should grab Sally Hansen's Airbrush Legs.  Given that our  summer temperature can fluctuate by 10 degrees either way in one day, this product (basically a  wash off foundation for the legs) is a speedier option than applying heavy duty fake tans that supposedly last several days but get increasingly blotchier. For great  advice on the latest cosmetics (including the best fake tans) of interest to  us mid-lifers, check out the  excellent Crafty Crone's Grown Up Beauty Blog. But whichever magic ingredient you apply to your shivery pins, you’ll still have the goose-bumps when caught out in the sudden change from balmy breeze to  gale force  east wind. There’s also the little matter of the north/south colour divide – your legs say Mediterranean, your upper limbs say Siberia (apart from the tanned palms).  The option is to investigate a cover-up. While LOB has a sartorial problem with the whole leggings/jeggings/treggings  alternative and has never really recovered from the time a relative said she looked like a ball of wool with two knitting needles sticking out of it, all the same, the leggings plus floaty chiffon dress combo can work well on the grown-up womanly frame. This summer look from Dash of chunky knit wrap and grey leggings, has a casual elegance. 
Another alternative is the churider – adapted from trousers worn by Indian women. A stylish younger woman of LOB’s acquaintance swears by these as an elegant cover-up under simple summer dresses or short linen tunics as the fit is much more flattering than tight, unforgiving leggings.

 Made from fine cotton lawn and cut on the bias, the long legs are designed to fold slightly at the ankle (looks a lot nicer than it sounds). They are loose along the thighs, but tighter on the calves, and with tiny button fastenings at the hem. 
Available by mail order from Toast online, (approx €48) they come in varying tones of charcoal, blue and black (as shown in these two images)

Whether we opt for bare legged chic or classy cover-up, the decider ought to be what we are wearing plus the weather on the day – not what the ageists decree. After all, us grown-ups may getting on a bit, but thankfully are  nowhere near having what writer Alan Bennett once described as "the kind of old lady's legs that seem to have gone out now, which begin at the corners of the skirt and converge on the ankles".

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Jacket in, you heatwave forecasters

Expecting snow any day now.  For no matter what the calendar says, its still January round Looking Our Best’s exposed limbs.  Leave for the moment  the perennial problem of the wintery legs, it’s the marbled, mottled arms that are crushing any attempt at mid-lifer, mid- summer elegance. Yes, we could do a cardi – but it has to be oh-so carefully chosen so as not to scream bingo hall. A jacket, as every self respecting woman of style knows, is the mainstay of any wardrobe, and especially now that the weather forecasters have been exposed as lying toads. Heatwave – hah! Tailoring is the way to warm up, but even the lightweight variety can carry a hefty price tag. As LOB’s summer holiday plans are somewhat restricted just now -  less Costa, more Costcutter-  she was on the look out last week for a softly tailored linen jacket to work with either jeans and T-shirt (oooh, nice and warm) or the cotton (s-s-s-shiver )shift dress. Not too much to ask, surely? And Penneys are not asking a lot for their 100% linen classic in a muted cafe au lait shade:  €23. I’ll just run that by you again. €23. The more ethically minded fashionista will inevitably wrestle with her conscience (the label says ‘made in Vietnam’) while the guilty as charged LOB has to confess that since purchasing, she has hardly left off this little number since. It also comes in black or cream (and with matching tailored separates).  As for white linen (something LOB finds a challenge to wear) there are still versions out there such as this design from J by Jasper Conran, (€135), from the current summer designer ranges at Debenhams.  The slightly longer length, semi-fitted, single breasted style,  with deep lapels and single button , is a flattering shape for the generously waist-lined among us who have been overdoing the banoffi pie. Equally flattering is this more cropped length black and white pin striped jacket, also from Debenhams (€57).

With the summer sales imminent, and significant discounts forecast, LOB is starting to feel warmer already....