Life’s Better at the Beach

The view from my office window this morning is all blue sky and sunshine. I can’t feel the heat as the office is beautifully air-conditioned, but I know it will be there to greet me when I head out onto the busy street at lunchtime. Finally! Even though this is Spain, this winter just gone has been long and cold. No, really. You’d be surprised how cold 12 degrees is when you have no heating in your house.

I am lucky enough to live in a beach town at the southern tip of Spain, where people from all over come to spend their summer holidays. We are expecting the first heat wave of the year and I am really looking forward to it. With over thirty degrees and mild westerly winds forecast, I will be spending most of this coming weekend at the beach. Just in time to browse the net for this year’s hottest beachwear!

First up, the swimsuit is back. After what has seemed like a lifetime of string bikinis, with swimsuits relegated to athletes and the very old, a very decent selection is once again available.

Here’s my best of 2012:

Swimsuits

Classic Styles, from left: 1.Whistles Elle Swimsuit. 2.Mileti Contrast Frame Suit. 3.Mouille 2 Tone Wrap

Stripes, from left:     1.House of Holland. 2.Huit Multi Stripe. 3.Princess Tam Tam Belted Swimsuit

Tropical, from left: 1.French Connection, 2.Warehouse Floral print, 3.Asos Floral Print

Print, from left: 1.Moschino Heart Print. 2.French Connection Zig Zag Swimsuit. 3.Whistles Petal Spot Swimsuit

Available to order on www.asos.co.uk.

To follow shortly: My favorite Bikinis of the season!

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7. Dare to be different

When I was growing up, I thought with my head of red hair I’d never be able to wear anything but black, white or navy. Any other color just seemed wrong and usually set off some schoolyard bullying. Depressed, I turned to black and graveyard music, even dyeing my hair black to get rid of the dreaded red.

At university a few years later I met a girl who eventually became one of my best friends. The first time I saw her she had a pixie cut, bright red hair and wore a red jumper. In fact, she loved wearing reds and oranges and it worked incredibly well with her pale skin and her red hair. I realised I had been missing out for years, and that she was using what I thought was a flaw to her advantage.

We often see what makes us different as an imperfection, and we try to cover it up. However style is about individuality, not conformity. You need to embrace yourself and your flaws to find your style. True style is not in your beauty, but in your attitude.

Forget the rules

People with style don’t play by the rules. With rules I mean the endless advice of what to wear as a “spring type”, an “hourglass”, if you are petite or tall. I’m not saying they are all rubbish, but most of them are. We human beings are simply too complex to slot easily into one of four categories.

Opposites attract

Style doesn’t mean matching everything to perfection. Often, it is the opposite. A great look integrates opposing elements, elements which should mirror who you are.

  • the hard with the soft: leather with lace, silk with studs, a ballroom gown with a biker jacket
  • the feminine with the masculine: a girly dress with brogues, a man’s shirt with a belt and heels
  • the conservative with the edgy: a tailored dress with bonkers heels, ripped jeans with a formal shirt and blazer
  • the sporty with the elegant
  • the grown up with the girly

What seems crazy usually looks amazing. Go on and try it for yourself.

Don’t be an actress

I can’t emphasize how important it is not to over-coordinate. A sixties inspired pair of boots is one thing, but if you go the whole flower power hog with dress, hair and blue eyeshadow you will look like you’ve walked off the set of an Austin Power movie. Style is not role-play; it is being yourself.

… but do be a drama queen

Oh yes. I do love a bit of decadence. That huge statement necklace, the blood red dress, a bit of fur (fake for me). If you see that one thing that makes your mouth water, and your toes curl, get it. Don’t worry what other people think when you wear it, just be confident. Don’t be afraid to be colorful. Most bold colors mix incredibly well. Don’t be afraid to mix materials, or prints, just try and stay within a color scheme. It takes some guts at first to be a great drama queen, but God knows it is worth it.

It’s in the detail

Accessories are so much more than add-ons to your outfit. They can transform your outfit from boring to stylish. A plain black trouser-suit can be updated by pairing it with heels in a scream-out-loud color and lots and lots of bangles. A little black dress will set one tone when you wear it with black satin courts, another with a pair of Doc Martens, black nail polish and a smoky eye. The most important part of your outfit is your accessorising. Be as individual as you can. Be a collector and let your accessories tell your story. The most expensive diamond jewellery is no match for the coin bracelet from Jordan, the latest designer bag no match for the camel leather satchel from Morocco.

Have fun

At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about achieving a state of permanent perfection. Actually, perfection might make you seem a bit ridiculous. Don’t try too hard, wear what you love and have fun instead. People with style never do it all – perfect hair, perfect nails, perfect make up, perfect outfit, perfect accessories. It’s just too much, and they know that at the end of the day, looks aren’t all that important.

6. Be your own stylist

So now you have the house to yourself, you’ve set up your clothes rail and gotten rid of anything you don’t need right now. Hopefully this will have made some space in your wardrobe.

The next step is to tidy up as much as possible. Hang up all of your clothes if you have the space. They will stay neater and be easier to identify. Try not to cram two or three things onto one hanger for the same reason. Remember the dreaded baskets? They are a no go. Also not allowed are piles of shoes or clothes. Hang everything up neatly and sort by tops, bottoms, and dresses/ overalls. Shoes should go into labelled boxes, or put a shoe rack at the bottom of your wardrobe.

Now you can start to create outfits. It might sound trivial but it isn’t. Imagine this: if you own thirty tops and thirty bottoms, you could create nine hundred different outfits. That’s a different outfit every day for the best part of three years. Throw jackets, shoes, dresses, scarves and bags into the equation, and you could probably spend a decade without wearing any one combination twice. Compare this to the twenty or thirty outfits that you wear regularly and that readily come to mind! Obviously those thousands of random combinations would throw up some monstrosities, but also some really good looks that you just hadn’t thought of yet. It is well worth spending a bit of time on creating outfits from what you already own. You’d be surprised what you might find.

Maybe the sight of your wardrobe is overwhelming, and you need a bit of inspiration to guide the way. Inspiration is everywhere but I tend to steal from the professionals.

Fashion Magazines

I like the Instyle magazine and my favourite section is the “Your Look” pages where they take current trends and create outfits. They often mix up unlikely items but the overall look is great.

Fashion blogs

There are some really great blogs out there by professional stylists (Natalie Hartley) and enthusiastic amateurs alike.

Shops

Good shops present their clothes well – at the end of the day, they want you to buy them! Take pictures if you like something – on a mannequin, on a poster, on the rail, or even in the changing room. Most mobile phones have an integrated camera these days, so nobody will notice and accuse you of industrial espionage.

Websites

The websites of most high street chains have a “look book” or inspiration page where they show their latest collection and how to wear it. Asos even have a tool where you can create outfits from their catalogue and upload them onto their website.

Ok, you’re thinking, so there is this outfit that I really like but I don’t own anything like it. Are you sure? What is it that you like about it? The shape? The way they are combining unusual colours, textures, patterns, or styles? How they put a blouse under a dress and top it off with a headscarf, or how they wear brogues and a hat with a girly floral dress? You won’t be able to create the identical look. That would mean going out and buying it. It’s about making something new and something you out of what you own.

If your memory is as bad as mine, you should make sure you don’t forget about your new creations. You could sort your wardrobe by gathering the matching items, but I believe it’s better to take a picture of each outfit. If you have a Polaroid camera, stick the photo on your wardrobe. If not you could get it printed for a few pennies, or simply save the photos on your laptop, creating an archive that you can revisit as required. Yes, it is a little OCD. You have to be into your clothes to look good. Sorry.

Get the whole look together, including jacket or coat, scarf, tights, shoes, belts, bags and jewellery. Bring on the accessories – for me accessories often make the outfit. Try not to be too matchy matchy, it’s a beginner’s mistake. Looking a little uncoordinated at times will give you the style edge over a perfectly manicured look. Dare to be unusual.

Next time, I’ll show you how.

… to be continued…

5. Messiness isn’t always a sign of genius

If the scenario below sounds familiar to you, you might have a wardrobe in crisis.

The alarm goes off while the cat is already pulling my hair, demanding his breakfast (very naughty!). I get up and pour some water over my head and stumble towards my wardrobe.

I open it.

I stare at the mountain of clothes in there.

There really are a lot of clothes in there.

In fact, the rail is looking increasingly buckled and bent in the middle. God only knows what will happen if it crashes. It is carrying so much weight that it might easily smash through the floor and end up downstairs.

I blink a number of times at the clothes mountain. Then I walk away to brush my teeth, disheartened.

A dialogue starts in my head at this point which goes something like this:

For god’s sake! There must be something in there that I could wear today!

Blue trousers?

No, still too tight.

What about that dress you bought the other day?

Haven’t got a pair of shoes to go with it.

The white skirt?

Which top though? I have to buy a matching top first, seriously.

That’s right, more shopping.

Yep.

I go and wear my no fuss no frills standard black dress as I do at least once a week and get on with it, until the following morning’s groundhog day experience.

Isn’t it incredible how much stuff you own, yet there is nothing you want to wear. Obviously, that is not the full truth. There will be something in your wardrobe that once upon a time you liked. When it was hung up neatly on a rail in a store, in between other nice and neat things.

Now it has been sucked in by the vortex that is your wardrobe. If you can ever find that nice thing that once upon a time you liked, it will probably be crinkled. Or shrunk. And certainly you have no idea what bottom or top will go with it.

Getting dressed is like anything else really – it needs a bit of practice. You need to invest a bit of time to know what looks good. You are not going to find a great outfit when you are running late for work on a Monday morning. There will not be a strike of inspiration at 6.30 am. Such a thing has never happened.

Take a Saturday afternoon, or a Sunday morning, preferably when your boyfriend or annoying mother/ sister/ children are out of the house. Put some nice music on and have a cup of tea / glass of wine, whatever you find relaxing. If you have a clothes rail, set it up. Then start going through your things.

The advice is usually to throw as much out as possible, because you may never wear anything again if you haven’t worn it in a year. Personally I don’t believe this, plus I am a bit of a collector. So getting rid of things is not an option unless something is totally ruined or more than two dress sizes too large/ small. But I do store things that I know I won’t be using for the foreseeable future. Try to slim down your wardrobe as much as you can. It’s important to create visibility. Good stores do this perfectly- there is neither too much nor too little on display in a good store. Leave enough but not too much.

Another thing about good stores – the display is coordinated. Personally I’m not somebody who much enjoys the last day of the sales – the chaos of clothes everywhere, coming of their hangers so you can’t tell whether you are looking at a blouse or a pair of trousers anymore, or even worse, a random collection of tossed together garments in baskets. Baskets! The thought of it makes me shiver. If your own wardrobe is looking like the last day of the sales, it’s no wonder that getting dressed is a close to impossible task. Turn your wardrobe into a place of inspiration, where getting dressed in the morning will feel like going shopping in a really nice store. Next time I’ll show you how.

… to be continued…