In search of style

To put it mildly I’ve never been a fashionista. In my teens my style was slightly schizophrenic. On one hand I was inspired by the indie-girl-band look in vogue at the time; my interpretation of it being an ankle-length black or denim skirt with a tight t-shirt and Adidas Gazelles, or jeans and a shapeless grey sweater. On the other hand, this look had to be funded from my wages as a shop assistant/waitress in a cake shop (£2.05 an hour), so if my mum offered to take me shopping I would bite her hand off, and she favoured a slightly less grungey style, so half my wardrobe was more tailored pieces which I flattered myself were a little bit Rachel-from-Friends. (Needless to say, they weren’t!)

In my twenties it was all about dressing for the office. My first proper job, aged 21, was Assistant General Manager for Day Surgery at a District General Hospital in the West Midlands. I was rather out of my depth, and compensated with the best Next had to offer in the way of power-suits, combined with 3 inch pointy stilettos and a crisp shirt. Hell, I even ironed in those days. As I moved up the career ladder and gained in professional confidence, I realised that the two-piece suit wasn’t really me, and I developed a work look which centred around pencil-skirts with a waist-cinching belt, fitted tops or little cardies, and I retained my passion for the three-inch heel. I worked this look, or the closest approximation to it I could manage at eight months pregnant, right up until going on maternity leave with Anna.

After Anna was born, both time and money were in fairly short supply. What I wore then depended on what I could buy in the small branches of Dorothy Perkins and New Look in our local shopping centre. I rarely tried things on because Anna was normally fussing in the buggy, so tended to grab the nearest pair of leggings and jersey tunic dress in something approaching my size. They were comfy and cheap and covered me up, and at that point this was pretty much all I cared about. Gradually as Anna got older and I had a bit more time and money I started to expand my fashion horizons once again. And then I got pregnant and was back to leggings and tunic dresses once more.

Now I am stuck, and desperately trying to develop my style for this phase of my life. I’m at home with two young children, so practicality is key. The heels have gone for good, replaced by boots, Birkenstocks, and brogues. So far, so mumiform, but I’m quite happy with that. The feet are sorted. Not least because they haven’t put weight on. But the rest of me isn’t quite so easy to sort out. I want to be comfortable and practical, but reasonably stylish and put together too. Perhaps as a reaction against spending the nineties and noughties in various shades of black and grey, I have fallen in love with colourful prints – stripes, spots, florals. I love the vintage trend, and have friends who look absolutely stunning in their charity shop finds, but when I experiment I end up looking like I’ve been dressed by Marks and Spencer’s circa 1985, and have come to the conclusion that I prefer my vintage as interpreted by Cath Kidston.

Another problem is that I’ve rather gone off the throwaway fashion at the lower-end of the high street.  It’s probably just my inability to pull it off, but I feel that a size 14 woman in her mid-thirties dressed entirely from Primark can risk looking a bit, well, cheap. I still love my bargains, but I need to mix and match them a bit more now. Putting on 4.5 stone during my pregnancy with Sophia, of which only 3 has left me, means that many of my old clothes don’t fit anyway. I’ve spent six months in denial, imagining that the weight was about to miraculously drop off, but have now concluded that it isn’t. I would like to return to my middle-of-the-road size 12 at some point, but at the moment breastfeeding and broken nights and the hard work of a new baby mean that I’m not ready for the self-denial this would entail. So I need something to wear.

And of course, into this void steps Mr Johnnie Boden. Aahh, Johnnie, how do I love you, let me count the ways. Quirky prints, flattering cuts, ethical manufacturing, quality materials. How much more of a middle-class mum cliche could I sound? Unfortunately, cliches become cliches for a reason. The only snag is the price. I really can’t afford to just open the Boden catalogue and order my new season’s wardrobe, much as I might like to. My Boden habit depends on identifying items I want, and then holding my breath and waiting for the sale (Boden do have extremely good sales), or the 20% off code, or even tracking down a particular item on Ebay.

clothesI do feel like I am very gradually starting to develop a wardrobe which works, financed by a lot of bargain hunting and some selling off of clothes I’ve out-grown physically and mentally. There have been some barely-worn mistakes, but my go-to hero items are the obligatory jeans, either boyfriend cut or skinny, a variety of stripy Breton tops, skirts or dresses with a vibrant print and a slightly 1950s feel;  bare-legged with my beloved Saltwaters in summer and with thick opaques and brogues come autumn, lightweight scarves and chunky jewellery to ring the changes, and, as I’m permanently cold, I do love me a nice cardi. It’s not a look which is going to be seen on the catwalks or the pages of Vogue any time soon, but it feels several steps up from either cramming myself into clothes which are a couple of sizes too small and past their best anyway, or resorting to  baggy tracksuit bottoms and a shapeless t-shirt. If I’m going to be a cliche, I’d rather aim for the yummy mummy one than the slummy mummy one.

So, is this just me? How do other people change their wardrobes to suit their changing body shapes and lifestyle? How do you balance style and practicality? What are your wardrobe heroes?

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4 thoughts on “In search of style

  1. estherchandler says:

    I like to use Pinterest for wardrobe planning. I pin what I like and then look for trends in my pins, then I target what I am currently missing when I go shopping a lot better. I also look at capsule wardrobes/carry on wardrobes and compare them to my actual wardrobe because I tend to under-invest in a lot of key items like basics which are needed to make the fun things look good. I still have problems resisting impulse buys though…

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    • helenlouisechandler says:

      That sounds extremely organised! I haven’t quite ‘got’ Pinterest yet, but I suspect once I do get into it I’ll be hooked. My downfall is that love of a bargain means I have a horrible tendency to buy things which are dramatically reduced, even if they are totally unsuitable. Most of my wardrobe mistakes come this way. Either that or panic buying for a particular event.

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  2. Gill Dover says:

    Being 4ft 10 1/2, having size 3 feet, size 12 bottom half and 14 top half, I struggle to shop for clothes and shoes – so buy when I see something that fits (and isn’t too expensive) x

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  3. bettyandthebumps says:

    I totally understand what you mean about your opportunity to shop being limited to the stores you can easily get to, but actually sometimes this has served me quite well. I bought a nice green jersey top and a button through tea dress from Peacocks when I was in the breastfeeding days and I’ve had some nice knitwear from New Look. These aren’t shops I’d have thought of going into before but because I was spending more time in my local shopping centre and couldn’t face the hassle of going into Newcastle, I tried them out and was sometimes lucky. Also, I’ve had some amazing things from charity shops. I find charity shop fashion amazing when I’ve been losing weight because I would spend £15 on two dresses and a skirt and then a few months later I would re-donate them. x

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