Looking good

Clothes shopping masterclass

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Too many of us are encouraged to see shopping  as a leisure activity in its right, which when you think about it, is a very strange state of affairs indeed, and could even be seen as  somewhat spiritually improverished. While nobody wants to go back to the days of post-war queuing and jostling in order to buy the smallest items, if your only experience each week apart from the workplace and the home is trailing around a overheated, packed shopping centre with umpteen plastic bags in pursuit of the elusive, then it might be worth asking yourself if you really find this truly satisfying. That having been said, all of us need to acquire various things at regular intervals, and if you plan it carefully, as a military campaign, you will be able to carry out your errands a great deal more efficiently and cheaply than if you just wandered around with your credit card burning  a hole in your pocket.

So when out and about, given that money is tight and time a luxury, what should you be buying on the clothes and fashion front? First of all, before you even think about buying clothes, you should have done two things. You should always clear out your wardrobe of any redundant or unused  garments, on the ‘one in, one out’ principle. Secondly, while doing this, you need to carry out an audit of what remains, so you can judge any gaps in your wardrobe that might bring other outfits to life. The next rule is to make sure you have a few stylish items that you have spent a bit more money on. In this respect, less is more. This will probably include:

  • a good coat or jacket
  • a best dress that can work for day and evening
  • a couple of skirts
  • a couple of pairs of trousers
  • a couple of really stylish, fashionable tops that do you real justice.
  • If you can afford a good quality merino wool or even cheaper supermarket cashmere sweater or two, you will appreciate this as well.

These can be supplemented with well cut, long and short sleeved t-shirts (look for good quality jersey if you can, and double stitching), jeans (classic dark indigo ones tend to look flattering on most women, and try to pick a well fitting waist and boot leg if you are pear shaped), cheaper day-to-day blouses and tops in brighter colours, and accessories such as large beads, scarves and big rings that bring together the look. Do it right, and you will wear your clothes rather than them wearing you. That’s all you need.

Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What do you spend on clothes for yourself each year?

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Tell us what you spend personally on clothes each year – not you, not your children, but just for you!

Handbags at dawn

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Does your handbag weight more than a small child? It doesn’t have to. Hoarding is usually the problem, but if you have a tray to empty the contents onto each evening it makes it easy to transfer a streamlined set of basics into the new one. Be wary of always carrying a huge farthingale of a handbag with most of your worldly goods inside, because it will be do damage to your back in the medium term. Here is a handbag checklist of the basics that you will need, and it is sensible to keep as near to this as possible rather than adding too many extra things:

  • Purse with at least £10-£20, a debit card and a credit card (only to act as emergency alternative payment if your debit card doesn’t work)
  • Driving licence or other photo ID
  • Mobile phone
  • House and car keys
  • Train or bus pass
  • Pocket pack of tissues
  • Tampons and/or panty liner
  • Dose of paracetemol
  • Plaster
  • Safety pin
  • Spare pair of neutral tights
  • Small brush or comb
  • Small umbrella
  • Pen
  • A spare five pound note and one pound coin (emergency parking or supermarket trollies)

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sunday night organisation

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I mentioned in an earlier post that  it can be useful to give your hair a careful blow dry on a Sunday night to boost morale and save time the next week. Here is a more extensive plan for Sundays to help you organise your time and effort so things are less stressful on a daily basis. Once you have got into the habit, the organisational part  should take you about at least 20-30 minutes in total and this is best done in the early evening. If you add the beauty and grooming regime to it, you need to add at least another 20-30 minutes (an alternative is to do this in two stages with beautification happening during your evening bath once the kids are in bed). 

To start this process, set up your ironing board near your clothes, and have a sewing kit and shoe cleaning kit close to hand. You will also need a notepad, pen, chequebook and envelopes, your diary and/or your smartphone, if you use one, and finally a laptop connected to the internet if possible.

DIARY – Look through and update your appointments for the week. Think about whether you need to book dental checkups, routine health screening  or hair appointments in the near future. Make sure you have completed any slips or cheques that need returning to school or elsewhere, and entered any trips or holiday information into your personal diary. Think about any pick up/drop off problems that might be looming, or times when it looks as though you might have too much on, and try to consider whether there might be some sort of workaround. This might involve making a couple of phone calls to organise sharing lifts with another parent or colleague, cancelling activities you are not completely committed to, or changing dates to a more convenient time. Remember, if there’s too much on, it is perfectly possible to slow time down so you are functioning more on your own terms.

TO DO LIST – Write out Monday’s to-do list, merging work and home commitments and prioritising them 1-4 (1=Urgent and important; 2= Urgent but less important; 3=Not urgent but important; 4=Not urgent and not particularly important).  This should be redone every evening ready for the next day ahead.

CLOTHES – Choose seven outfits, one for each day of the week, and assemble them onto hangers with all the accessories required. Check over the clothes and shoes to make sure they are clean, pressed and presentable, and in good repair (this is where the ironing board, shoe cleaning kit and sewing kit come in). Then line up the outfits at one end of your wardrobe ready for the week ahead, with the matching shoes if there is space. It is also sensible to check that you have enough pants and bras ready, including such refinements as nude coloured underwear that won’t show through light coloured clothing, as well as black bras when wearing dark tops with a neckline that slips, for example. You will need to check your stock of tights as well, to make sure that you have a pair for each outfit that requires them, as well as one or two spares in case the inevitable happens and you snag them with your nails as you are putting them on.  If you fund you are running low on regular cosmetics, sanitary protection or tights, you can order them in bulk online there and then to save time, if you have a laptop to hand.  Double check your children have enough underwear and school outfits/supplies for the week ahead as well.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be your own valet

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Looking after clothes and shoes well can mean years of extra life. Here are some hints and tips for maximising your investment with minimal time and money input.

Lingerie and delicate woollens– Wash by hand in the sink with specialist washing liquid, liquid hand soap or shampoo. Some lingerie can be put into washing machines in a net bag, if you are prepared to risk it.

StainsThere are many specialist products on the market to deal with stains, but if the item is white or very light coloured, and funds are tight, consider using a weak solution of bleach to get rid of things such as tea and puree stains. Otherwise just keep in stock two: one for organic stains (grass, juice, tea, coffee, baby food, sweat and so on) and one for non-organic stains (biro ink, nail varnish, etc).

Whites – These can be bleached by the sun. If you start your washing early in the day, when it promises to be fine weather, you will be able to hang it outside and allow it to be aired very thoroughly whilst benefiting from the sunshine in this way. Plus it always feels virtuous to have a row of sheets flapping in the breeze, and there is the added pleasure of burying your nose in the pile secretly and sniffing it after you’ve brought it indoors (or am I the only one who indulges in this?)

Pressing – Not all items can be ironed in a straightforward manner, or they will rapidly become shiny and shabby. Dark woollen and tailored items (such as formal trousers or a school blazer) should be ironed on the back, or if a crease is required down a sleeve or trouser leg, you should use a pressing cloth. This involves getting a clean tea towel or old cot sheet, soaking it in water and then wringing it out, and then placing it on top of what you want ironed, pressing onto that rather than the garment below. Also be careful with t-shirts with transfers on the front, as these tend to melt when a hot iron is applied.

Shoes – Many fabric shoes such as trainers and plimsolls can be washed in a normal domestic machine if they are placed in a pillowcase or specialist net. Again, there is an element of risk but they nearly always come out looking better than before. Leather shoes should not be washed in a machine, however, as they invariably shrink. Instead, try wiping them over and then using cheap handcream to bring them back to life. This also protects the leather.

Shoe care – Always keep a simple shoe cleaning kit to hand, and have a once-a-week shoe cleaning session. The best polish is the cheap wax in little tubs, and you should also have at least two brushes per colour (one for applying polish and one for removing it) plus a soft duster for buffing to a shine. If you don’t have shoe polish, you can use milk or even old hand cream. It makes sense to keep various pairs of spare laces at home as well, as annoyingly it will always be on days when you are in a hurry that your laces go just before you have to leave for work. If leather shoes get wet, stuff them with newspaper and leave them in a warm room to dry. Do not put them near a direct source of heat, or they will crack and shrink.

Home dry cleaning – If you have a tumble drier, dry clean only clothes can be refreshed and simple spot stain removal can be carried out using special kits available in supermarkets.

Sewing box – At the very least, this should contain white and black thread, a packet of pins, a packet of needles, some safety pins, buttons saved from old outfits, some sewing scissors, and some iron on hemming tape for emergency trouser repairs. Keep one in your clothes cupboard as welll to do simple running repairs upstairs.

Name tapes – If you want to protect your investment in your children’s school uniform, it is vitally important to label everything, and woven name tapes are the best option.  Fold each end underneath, oversew with little stitches all the way round, and make sure you do a double stitch at each corner.

Parisian style, pauper’s budget

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If looking chic is your aim,  it can be helpful to bear in mind former Chanel model Ines de la Fressange’s advice. “When you get dressed, “ she says, “tell a story”. Your aim is to put together a simple, congruent outfit that is fit for purpose while presenting you well to the outside world. Picking up the kids from school? Supermum story. Try clean jeans, walking shoes in good leather, a simple t-shirt, your merino jumper and a large, simple handbag with things like wet wipes and snacks inside. Meeting someone about a work matter? Woman of business story. Try one of your smarter skirts, boots with a medium heel, opaque tights, a simple blouse, your jacket and a small bag. Travelling? Exotic jetsetter story. Try a pair of your smarter trousers, plain leather walking shoes, a long sleeved t-shirt, some beads and your good coat, and see you much more respectfully people treat you than if you turned up in a tatty pair of jeggings (unless you are a supermodel, of course). That would be Look At Me For An Example Of British Defeatism story. Sorry, but it’s true.

I’ll talk more in later posts about clothes care in more detail, but it makes sense to steer clear of dry clean only clothes where possible (although many can be carefully hand washed if you are prepared to take the risk), as these will end up costing too much in maintenance in the medium to long term. It also makes sense to check the quality of a fabric when you are buying clothes. It is perfectly acceptable to rumple something in your hands to see whether it crumples, as that will give you a good indication of whether you are likely to look as though you have slept in an outfit after half an hour of wearing it. While you are about it, check all the seams to make sure they are properly stitched, the buttons to check they are secure, and the zips to make sure they work well. Reject any garment you are not completely sure about.

In terms of planning, put yourself on mailing lists so that you know when sales start (but only go when you have something specific to buy). Shop in high income areas, particularly when choosing charity shops to frequent. Try to get a sense of the rhythm of the week and year in your favourite retailers. For example, do they tend to discount things on a particular day? When do they get their main stock deliveries? What time of year do they have in-between sales? Speaking of sales, use your credit card if you can to benefit from the purchase protection it will bring you, if the goods prove to be faulty and you don’t want a major small claims court battle on your hands (but remember dutifully to pay your credit card bill off straight away every month).

You will know you have got all this grooming and fashion business right when you wear your clothes rather than your clothes wearing you, when you can get dressed in about five minutes without fretting and trying out different outfits, and when you can go away for a few days with a few small things you love tucked into a modest little case. Somehow life will feel lighter, more straightforward, and you will be able to start thinking about developing other aspects of your home and personal life so you are happier and more fulfilled. Which is the point of the exercise.

For advice about putting existing clothes together in a new and exciting way, try this blog:

http://www.puttingmetogether.com

Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bank holiday austerity bargains

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You might want to zip down to Waitrose over the weekend, as they seem to have a lot of bargain fish in stock. I don’t know why, because usually when I pop in to inspect their wares the counter looks a bit forlorn, with lonely pieces of haddock at £24.99 a kilo trying to flaunt themselves at me, like ancient strippers, trying to tempt uninterested punters with their white, flabby flesh. Today it was a different story. I got enough plaice (my upmarket fish of choice) to feed the family for a fiver, and they put it in a fancy bag with some free herb butter, so all I have to do is put it in the oven for half an hour. I like that, as it means I don’t even have to engage in my whizzy austerity baking tray cleaning exercise which invariably involves bicarbonate of soda plastered everywhere to remove the smell of fish.

Other decent bargains this week that have caught my eye include the New Gok Wan summer clothing range at the largest branches of Sainsbury. Avoid the smaller stores and head for the biggest in your area to find well-made designer tops that don’t make your bosoms look like two melons in a sack, for the princely sum of about £25. Team them with linen separates to revitalise your summer wardrobe and avoid smelling like a medieval brothel in what is supposed to be the hottest summer since Chaucer’s time, or somesuch (presumably after the Jubilee rain has been and gone).

If your garden is looking a bit naked, it’s not too late to bung some beans in and grow them up canes tied into wigwams – later on in the season they will develop gorgeous little red flowers, and after that you still have the proceeds to eat. If you haven’t got any garden furniture to sit on to enjoy looking at them, try going down to the local tip or looking in skips to find plastic furniture that can be cleaned up fairly easily with some Cif. Find some cushions in a pound shop, sew on some ties made out of bias binding, and you have an outdoor retreat for about a fiver.