Category Archives: Fashion

Remember when the sales happened in January?

So Europe’s in recession and will likely take the global economy with it. Here in the UK, unemployment is trundling towards 10 per cent. On the plus side, lots of shops are holding pre-Christmas sales. Every cloud and all that.

I thought I’d heroically do my bit for the nation’s prospects and buy a proper, grown-up handbag. It’s a leather Raoul number from Matches and cost £129 (with a 30 per cent discount). Which isn’t bad, no? Not for Matches. Topshop has bags the same price.

Or, as modelled by a model:

The Matches sale runs until (I think) December 8. You can also find 20 per cent off at Whistles and All Saints, while Debenhams is doing 30 per cent off coats, hats, scarves and gloves (that’s Grandma’s present sorted.) And before you hit the high street, check out My Voucher Codes for discounts at Gap, the White Company, Radley, Boden, Sweaty Betty and many more.

There. Don’t say I never tell you anything useful.

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Suckered again

One of the nice things about blogs – fashion and interiors blogs in particular – is that you can shamelessly crib their ideas. Copy a celebrity and everyone will see you for the unimaginative wannabe you are. Copy a friend and they will think you at best insecure, at worst slightly psycho. But ripping off some random who lives 3,000 miles away? Meh, who cares?

Which is a long way of justifying the fact that I’ve just knocked off this girl‘s new tote, from a sweet site called Fieldguided. Because who can resist a Kate Bush lyric in handbag form? Not me.

I’ve got to stop buying these flimsy totes though. I have a ton of them already and know they’re a waste of money. Bag for life? Pah. Bag for three weeks until they become irredeemably filthy and fall apart, more like. I also have this one from Goodhood, which I like but am a bit embarrassed to carry. Let’s just say it was more useful in Shoreditch than Sussex.

Insubstantial though they are, these bags do have the advantage of being cheap (cheap for handbags, that is – not cheap for what they are, which is two crappy bits of fabric stitched together) and handbags these days have become so mentally expensive, I can’t bring myself to shell out for a real one.

Sadly a fabric tote is no substitute for a real leather bag, with a lining and compartments, as anyone who’s spent 15 minutes rummaging for their keys in one will know. They’re also a pickpocket magnet. And never put anything in there you’d be embarrassed to see strewn across the floor of a pub. Thinking about it, I don’t even know why I even bought the damn thing. Bloody fashion bloggers.

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Saturday at Bicester

Yesterday I went to Bicester Village. I love an outlet park – as, judging by the crowds, does the rest of the world. And I mean rest of the world: Did you know that more than a quarter of all Bicester Village’s customers are Chinese, and that over there it’s better known than Harrods or Selfridges? Look, even the signs are translated into Mandarin:

There’s also a prayer room for Muslim customers:

Nothing promotes tolerance and inclusiveness like the whiff of profit.

I like Bicester because, with its faux New-England clapboard buildings and Disneyesque atmosphere, it reminds me of the Grove in LA. Both offer a similar shopping experience, but for me the Grove has the edge because it has a 14-screen cinema and a fountain that dances to Lionel Ritchie. If Bicester’s going to be up there with the world’s greatest malls, I’d suggest it gets itself a dancing fountain.

People get sneery about these places with their manicured lawns and chain names, thinking them bland and sanitised. But living in East London, bland and sanitised is a real treat (yes, I’m sorry, I liked it when they did up Spitalfields.)

In fact, my only objection to Bicester was the range of stuff on offer, which was a) horrible, and b) not very heavily discounted (I think that Tod’s sign was a lie.) I miss the old days when it first opened, when Whistles and DKNY were pretty well the only brands of note, but they were practically giving it to you. Today it’s all £900 Jimmy Choo handbags reduced to £600. Which is still a lot of money for a shiny great vulgar lump of leather.

But you can’t be a brand snob at Bicester. You may think Dolce cheesy and Dior naff, but lurking in the bargain bins at either, you might find a beautifully made, logo-free jumper for 20 quid. It pays to keep an open mind. Which is how I came to find myself going home with a blazer from (cough, splutter) Jack Wills.

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Rain boots

A few years ago, fed up with the British weather ruining yet another pair of shoes, I thought, ‘Kerching! I know! What the world needs now is not love sweet love, it’s fashionable rain boots.’ Then, as now, Hunters were big, and like everybody else I have a pair. But for all their Kate-at-Glastonbury connotations, Hunters make real girls look as if they’re about to muck out, which can feel a bit odd if you’re not in a Somerset field, but wandering round Boots or House of Fraser or somewhere.

Anyway, since then a trillion companies have had the rainboot idea – companies with, like, business savvy and some idea of how to produce shoes – and now there’s a massive choice. I bought this Vivienne Westwood/Melissa pair a couple of winters ago, and since it rains an average of every three days in this country (although it feels like more), my, how I’ve got my wear out of them:

But now I’m sick of the sight of them. I’m not going to replace them, because even if the economy wasn’t in the toilet, that would be silly an’ all – you need one pair of rainboots, not a wardrobeful. But if I was in the market for a new pair, I would be looking at these:

They’re from US chain LL Bean and cost $179. They’re also kind of fugly. But I think they’d look good with the right trousers and they’re fleece-lined, which, as winter stares me in the face, has its appeal.

I actually prefer these ones from Joules, which, at £29,99, are a third of the price of the Melissa/Vivienne Westwood ones, and not nearly as common popular. I sense that ribbon might get pretty manky though:

You could go the other way and spend £435 on these Valentino ones, available at Net-a-Porter, but that would be mental. Besides, then it all starts to go a bit jackboot:

These rubber Gucci Chelsea boots (£180, Net-a-Porter) are a new take on the idea. But £180 for plastic shoes? C’mon.

I also like these rubber biker boots (£30, Office). But then you’re back to the old clompy-wellies-in-urban-high-street conundrum…

Rainboots are an insanely practical purchase though. Not least because they’re wipe-clean…

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Yay!

J Crew is launching a UK website at the end of the month. For those who don’t know, J Crew is another of those slightly bland/preppy US brands. Think Gap for an older crowd, or a less-officey Banana Republic.

Why, Alex, that sounds amazing.

Hmmm. OK, it isn’t cool or edgy, or even particularly interesting. But it is the perfect place to go if you need a navy jumper, or a bikini that treads the middle ground between two scraps of snakeskin and frump-tastic floral. In other words, it’s what Marks & Spencer should be, but isn’t.

Michelle Obama is famously a fan, although admittedly that isn’t much of a sell either. Like Kate Middleton, she’s one of those women on the world stage who only became a style icon by default, because all the other style icons got sick and dropped out of the competition. Or rather, in their case, because the only other contestant was Carla Bruni, who, yeah, looks stunning, but also like a right bitch (and who cheated by being an international supermodel first). And who else is there? Angela Merkel?

OK, there’s that one from Estonia who would be really pretty if it wasn’t for the weird plaits:

© AFP

And Hilary killed it with the clip:

© Reuters

Sam Cam’s scored some points in the fashion stakes (always handy having a sister at Vogue), though you sense she’s no natural. But I think Louise Mensch has potential, if she didn’t look like such a bossypants.

I’ve veered right off the subject of J Crew, haven’t I? Anyway, it’s more expensive than your bog-standard High Street but the quality is good and they have terrific sales, and Crewcuts, the kids’ range, is great. Check it out.

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Mary Portas for House of Fraser

I know that many admire her forthright approach, but personally I can’t stand Mary Portas. Everything about her, from her haircut to her cuffs to her manner, is too pointy and scary, though I sense this is deliberate. She’s one of those people who see honesty as some great virtue – the kind who’d rather leave you sobbing in a corner than pretend, just for niceties’ sake, that they thought you were something other than a total twonk.

I fucking hate people like that. I was once shortlisted for a writing prize (I know, I know. How? Etc.) Anyway, one of the judges was Lionel Shriver, who is (was) a hero of mine. The ceremony, full of smart literary types, made me feel awkward and nervous. There was a lot of champagne floating about, so I downed about three buckets of the stuff before staggering over to thank her for putting me through.

‘Which story was yours again?’

I explained.

Instead of saying something bland and encouraging before extricating herself, she made this little face, as if she was holding back puke, before saying, ‘YeeeeeeeeeeessssI think I voted for that one,’ therefore making it unequivocally clear she didn’t.

I mean, why be such a bitch? I was left feeling doubly gutted (because I then lost) – and for what? So she could feel the smug glow of the pathologically honest. Anyway, that’s why I hate Mary Portas. Because she’s like Lionel Shriver. Hmmm.

But I’ve been seeing mention of Portas because she has a new clothing range out tomorrow, aimed at the over-40s. This is the demographic sorely underserved on the High Street, or so everybody keeps saying, even though forty-pluses can go to Whistles, Toast, Agnès b or about a million other shops and come out not looking like a dog’s dinner. (Actually, my tip would be all those Danish brands – by Malene Birger, Rutzou and that sort of thing.)

So far I’ve seen nothing of Portas’s collection for House of Fraser, except for what she wore in the photograph accompanying an Observer interview. This was a pair of four-inch stilettos (is that really what the over-40s have been gagging for?), some tight coral trousers (quite nice, actually, but not desperately forgiving of middle-aged thighs) and a tailored grey shirt of the kind you can probably already find in Theory or Joseph.

But, unlike those shops, the House of Fraser concession will boast lots of extras you don’t expect, such as bellboys and a moan phone, where you can air any grievances. The bellboys in particular strike me as a terrible idea, as most women I know want less attention when they go shopping, not more, since more assistants = more people to bully you into spending money. I know women (myself included) who avoid shopping in boutiques altogether because the friendlier the owner, the more they feel pressured into buying stuff. The appeal of the department store is its anonymity.

Stuff phones and bellboys – my suggestions for a happy shopping experience are simple: Not too many stairs (men always get the ground floor by the entrance, while women have to traipse two miles into the bowels of the building to find their rails); a good three-way mirror offering arse-view as well as front-on, and an atmosphere that’s not too dark, loud or alienating (Abercrombie & Fitch, I’m talking to you.) And that’s about it. There – easy. Somebody give me a job shouting at shopkeepers.

Mary Portas’s collection is available online here.

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Ouch

Now, I understand the appeal of the nude shoe. They make your legs look longer. They go with (pretty well) everything. But Kate Middleton and co, you’ve killed it for all of us…

Literally all the female guests at Zara Phillips’ wedding wore nude shoes. Also, I bet there wasn’t a pair there that cost less than 450 quid and still they all look cheap.

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