Saturday, 31 January 2009

Back with boots

So I hope you've all missed your dose of Swelegance the last week or so. My birthday celebrations ran into a hellish week at work and a night at the theatre; with one thing and another, I've been too busy or exhausted to blog.

But shopping marches on, the sales are ending, and we still need to dress, and as this weather is making obvious, end of season bargain boots will get plenty of wear before summer.

I've mentioned Duo before, and their sale has taken an even bigger turn for the bargainous. Sale prices start at only £32 (and go up to £90) for winter boots in calf sizes up to 50cm. Each of the work-smart boots above costs less than £40, but there are also biker, Victorian lace-up, even cowboy styles and pretty colours to be had. If you are concerned about having large calves, though, you'll want to avoid the two styles below. The first is a pretty shade of pink, but hard to wear on dirty winter streets, and besides which, pale shades make everything look bigger. The other is a gorgeous, wearable bottle green, but that Romanov-esque frogging draws far too much attention to the horizontal line. Horizontal lines make you look wider. Avoid, avoid.

The good thing about the Duo site is that you can search by size - in this case foot and calf size. It's distressing in the shops when you find a style you like but your size isn't in stock. Internet shopping should be able to easily avoid that disappointment, and it's particularly important in the case of retailers who stock a myriad of size combinations - like a bra supplier, or indeed a calf-fit boot store. Infuriating, then, when Plus in Boots - an e-retailer also specialising in calf-fit boots, fails to do so.

Plus in Boots is a much smaller concern than Duo, with a much more limited line. But they too have a sale on, and so it's worth navigating their slightly irritating site, where knee boots are unnecessarily separated from calf boots and you must click into every style to see the colours available and if it still comes in your size. Sale boots here are all at either £50 or £60, so priced in the middle of Duo's sale. I like the black riding style boot above, and the gorgeous teal suede calf boots - both £50, and well worth dealing with the awkward site.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

A shortage of tops.

Miss Charlotte, any idea where i can get some longish smart/casual tops for work? i work in care/education with teenagers, so it needs to be not too revealing , its quite an active jobs (lots of manual handling, helping them with personal care,running around playing silly games etc) so it needs to be able to wear in layers so i can stay at a sensible temp, but also smart enough to be able to look presentable for meetings and during class times. doesn't have to be as smart as mainstream teacher type clothing, but not too casual either. atm, i wear mostly jeans/black trews, and v neck jumpers with vest underneath. I'm 5'10, large boobs, and trying to hide a post pregnancy tummy. any suggestions gratefully received as i currently have two tops on a loop!

The search for practical, flattering, reasonably priced work tops is bugging me lately, too. The new season ranges seem to lean heavily on design features that widen the look of the torso - and when you start with big boobs, that's a nightmare. The top above is deeply wrong, and yet you'll find similar in just about every shop at the moment. It's wrong for the following reasons: the drop waist draws attention to your hips with a horizontal line - and furthermore, the billowing blouson effect adds bulk to every tummy - not just post pregnancy ones. You want a loose fit - but you don't need to draw attention to which specific area needs the room. The batwing sleeves add volume between the torso and arms. Even as you move your arm, there's no visual distinction between body and arm - and the over all impression is that you're adding the width of the arms to the body.

Then look at the neckline. The round neck is a reasonable height, but round lines at the neck make big boobs look bigger. But the main problem at the neck is the gathering, which will make the neck and decolletage look tiny compared to the boobs. I don't want my boobs to look any bigger, thanks. By having no tailoring between the neckline and the dropped waist, the boobs seem visually united. Or droopy, if you will.

So what do we want? Well according to the rules of flattery, the best option is the kimono neck tunic. Very often the neckline is low, so a vest is needed - but this enables you to strip down a layer if you begin to feel too warm. The black and white top above, from Urban Outfitters is only £5 in the sale - up to a size 14, and would look gorgeous with a bright coloured vest underneath. The red and black oriental print tunic above is from Debenhams and costs £25 and is available up to a size 22. I think the pattern is really lovely - the sleeves are perfect, and the only fly in the ointment is that it already has an 'insert' where you would wear a vest - except I would be prepared to bet that you'd want more of a cover up for working with teenagers. Still, a black vest shouldn't look too odd.

Of course, there are other options: Bravissimo cater specifically for girls with big boobs and so their tops don't need the tailoring features that other top do if they are to achieve visual separation of boob and body. I like the twist neck top in Raspberry wine or chocolate (£25.50), but it isn't as long as the tunics, and so less practical. It's probably less forgiving of post-baby tummy as well. The final option is a cross-over top - but you want one that ties in at the waist, rather than fastens at the hip. The one above is by Linea at House of Fraser it costs £20, or £15 in black, although sadly the claret option is sold out. Sizes up to XL.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Bargain Slap.

I'd never heard of Wet and Wild, but when I was pointed in the direction of a sale on their website I decided to have punt.  Absolutely everything is 99p in the sale.  There's a full range of makeup, which appears to be Rimmel-like quality.  I bought A lipliner and eyebrow pencil, a concealer and some glitter pots.

Perhaps better value, though, are 'hardware' items, such as a perfectly serviceable powder brush, a nail buffer and false eyelashes.  I stocked up with four pairs, since they generally cost a fair bit, and - when all's said and done: eyelashes is eyelashes.  These ones are self adhesive - though I expect to use a little eyelash glue anyway.  Oh, and because the website doesn't tell you, "Vivacious" lashes are more subtle than "Flirtatious" ones.

Delivery is taking a fair while, but every one I know who has ordered, has got their goodies in the end.  It took about two weeks for me.  

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Above and beyond.

I try to make it a rule to avoid recommending companies that don't make what I consider to be a fair range of sizes - but after a size 22 things do tend to run a little dry. And yet truly voluptuous women aren't in short supply. So what are their options? Put 'plus size clothing' into Google and there's a thriving market: often independent retailers - many specialising in eveningwear or undies - the clothes are there, but so much of it is blousey and tent-like made in nasty synthetics in uninspiring colours. There seems to be an urge to fit everything as loosely as possible and cover it in large patterns, so that if you're not careful you end up looking like a sofa.

On the high street, Evans is the most common specialist store, stocking clothes from size 14-32. Occasionally they get it right, but there's so much wrongness that the whole experience becomes dispiriting. I've heard from two sources that they have a policy of not making party dresses or summer clothes with sleeves, for example, because 'larger women sweat more' - or words to that effect. And yet I could point them in the direction of dozens of women who hate wearing anything that doesn't cover their arms. Their clothes seem to have so little understanding of how to dress the larger woman in a flattering way. Take the top above. Simply gorgeous colour and pattern, and then cut to look like a big shapeless pillow. It's something that's going to make slim girls look wide this season. It's so wrong for Evans.

The two dresses above are nearly right (although hardly things of great gorgeousness), but fail in their understanding of basic shape. The red dress has perfect sleeves, and would probably be great for anyone whose boobs balanced out their weight elsewhere - but unlike on smaller girls, there's a very real chance that an empire line on someone over a size 24 or so, will make them look pregnant. The purple dress is better, because it's structured at the midriff, but no matter how generously cut that sleeve is, buy puffing out and then cinching in at the widest part of the arm, it's going to be really unflattering.

Ann Harvey is a lesser known high street presence who used to be a bit mumsy, but recently seems to have taken on the role of Wallis's larger sister. Sizes 16 to 28, and the go to destination for suits. I really love this black chiffon-sleeved top (£34.25) - perfect glam workwear and dressy enough for evening. Would look ace dressed up or down too. I'd love to see things like this in more colour options - fat people don't all need to look like they're off to a funeral to look good. Formal workwear can be tricky for larger girls. No matter how well made, a suit is rather too much of a square hole if you're a round peg yourself. This jacket, though, I think is very stylish, and with black trousers and a smart tunic top should be formal enough for most roles - I might have liked some subtle shoulder padding to balance out the hips, but for £58.72 it's a good piece with attention to design which the plus size designers all-too-often don't bother with.

Where else? Well there's Jacques Vert, but that's all a bit 'Mother of the Bride' for my tastes, and pretty costly to boot. Elvi is also on the dear side, but with a more mixed aesthetic - it reminds me of a slightly more grown up Dorothy Perkins, actually. The pinky purple silk jacket is from Elvi, and I love the colour, but there's hardly anything in their tailoring that acknowledges the larger shape - sizes 16-28, £149.00.

On the web there are the twin presences of Simply Be (and their huge stable of differently named but same-stock companies) and La Redoute, who have their tallissime and en plus ranges. Design in both cases can be fruity: I like the red padded coat above (to size 30, , in a rule breaking kind of way - but quality is immensely variable, and customer service can be wonky. In all, I tend to be put off, which is a shame because the design element is really enticing some times.

Back on the high street, and there are a couple of regular stores doing a plus size range (in selected stores) which are worth a look. M&S is worth a look - and gains marks for having some fun colours in mostly flattering styles. It's a limited range though, and frustratingly there are no frocks. Upper sizes vary from 24 to 28. I like the retro jacket above, which also comes in a burnt orange colour for £35. And the, as cheap as can be, there's New Look. Their 'Inspire' range offers dirt cheap directional fashion up to a 26, and I really recommend their jeans (those above are £22.) The range has a fast turnover so check back often. Again no dresses, though!

Ferreting around for this post, I did find a shop selling utterly, well, swelegant, plus size clothes. It's called Emma Plus, but unfortunately it doesn't do mail order. The shop's in Brighton and I suspect it's expensive - but if you were looking for something really special, it would be my first choice.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


*Puts hand up*

Charlotte, can you help me please? I'm looking for a black wool (or that sort of thickness) skirt. Actually, the colour doesn't matter that much really...

Either knee length or just above to wear with thick tights and boots. Any ideas? I can't find one anywhere.

What we're looking for here is an everyday skirt with some weight to it. Simple enough, but this may have been one of the hardest missions yet. The shops are full of spring summer floatiness, and at any rate, skirt profiles have been pretty 'sculptural' for a while. The pencil skirt, while glam, is not the most practical thing to throw on when ferrying three kids and a dog around all day. And the least said about it's unflattering little sister, the tulip skirt, the better. I know in my mind's eye exactly what I want to recommend: modern, fun - maybe a bit of a pattern... but all I'm finding is serious tailoring for the office.

Marks and sparks have over a hundred skirts to choose from, and two of them look like contenders. The first is a cosy winter plaid in muted greys or browny greys for £35. I like the high belted waist - which deserves a tucked in lightweight jumper, but could just as easily be hidden beneath something more chunky. The best feature, though, is the choppy, flirty hem. Not only is it fun, it's flattering too, breaking up the horizontal line. The other contender is a pure neutral. Classic A-line design for maximum versatility. If this skirt were slightly shorter I would recommend it unreservedly; at this length, I worry it may look frumpy. £39.50.

The White Stuff is a shop that needles me. I think it's overpriced, it only goes up to a sixteen, (despite clearly making clothes for thirtyandfortysomethings) and some of its tailoring is so unflattering. Particularly some of it's skirts where, like monsoon they seems to add weight to the silhouette right at the top of the thighs. As if that were a good idea. Oh and half of their website leads to dead links. But. Grudgingly I must recommend a couple of very lovely skirts. The first is somewhat over-whimsically called the 'Vibrant Gift skirt' (£45). It's a clean A line, with a gorgeous scattering of embroidered and printed flowers. It strays close to being a horizontal band of pattern, and that would be a very bad thing, but the way the flowers float up the skirt draws the eye into the vertical. The second skirt is called "Fly away with me" (no, really). It's also £45, and the warmth of the rose print is very appealing in the midst of winter.

The last recommendation is from a website called Toast. Usually retailing at over £77, this cord skirt with jeans styling is now a reasonable £40. It's young and uncomplicated, but not mutton dressed as lamb-young. It comes in three dark neutral shades: olive brown, soft khaki and dark grey-brown. Cord skirts look great with ribbed or woolly tights too.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Allow me to share...

... the meaning behind the name. (no shopping in this one, but I warn you now - it's a 'happysad' story.)

Swelegant Style Shopping's name comes (for those unacquainted) from the song "What a Swell Party" from the musical 'High Society'. The song was immortalised in the movie by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, but I've only heard them do it a few dozen times. To me, the song belonged to my Dad - who used to sing all the time as he wended his cheerful way - and very often the opening phrase "I have heard / among this clan..." or a Bingalike "Bom bom-bom / Buh bom bom bomm".

When we knew Dad's death wasn't just inevitable, but a matter of days, we began to discuss the funeral. I guess there was a familarity in planning a party, and a focus in having something to achieve. I felt really strongly that there should be something swinging for my Dad - a Rat packer at heart (one of my fondest inherited traits) - despite my mum not being a fan. I suggested "Fly Me to the Moon", but Mum reminded me that "What a Swell Party" was his every day favourite.. That night, I was on bedside duty, and when it was clear that the remaining time was in the minutes, and I was waiting for my family to arrive, I ran out of nonsense to say to him. In the quiet on the 2am ITU ward, I softly sang that song to him.

We did play it at the funeral. It is a fabulous song, and I've decided to have a line from its chorus tattooed on my foot: "What a swell party this is" since that really sums up my lovely Dad's positive attitude to life; the trait I most of all admire him for. Were my feet bigger, I would no doubt have the sentiment written in full - because what the song says, loud and clear, is "what a swelegant, elegant party this is".

And it's not wrong.

Since October, I've written this blog to remind myself that life is swelegant. My grief has subsided a little, but strangely this blog - this displacement activity - has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my life. Life's a swelegant party indeed.

BGW 3rd January 1937 - 10th October 2008

Oh my! I could actually weep.

Yesterday I bought the above frock to wear while celebrating my impending birthday.

Today I got an email from Collectif (retailers of said frock), announcing their one week, 50% off everything sale - from 17th - 24th January.  Poo.  

Anyway, you presumably haven't just paid full price for a frock from Collectif, and so really should consider paying half price for one.  The frock I bought is called sugar, and I chose it because, unlike many retro frocks, not only is it not a halterneck, the straps aren't the thin 'spaghetti' type, so beloved of prom dresses.  The problem then is not that they show your bra (no big deal), but that a thin strap can look lost in all that expanse of arm, shoulder and cleavage -  making your flesh look swampingly huge by comparison.  The sugar dress avoids this problem by borrowing from the Mouret Galaxy dress in it's lines.  I bought it in pink with black flocked animal print (rarr) for £45.  In the sale it comes in at a much more modest £22.50. Find dresses here.

Collectif is also the home of the 321 skirt (£30 before discount): a modern take on the circle skirt witha built-in net underskirt, and more pencil skirts than you can shake a stick at, including the ultra high-waisted Heidi style (also £30 before discount). Find skirts on this page.

There are trousers, cardies and bags - plus some items already heavily discounted in the sale - and it's 50% off the lot from from 17th -24th.  Use the coupon code 'shocking' and click submit to view the reduction before paying.  Please don't do this before 17th!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Curse that exchange rate!

Now is not the time to be buying clothes from the States - time was that the exchange rate made US shopping a steal, but now - not so much.

And yet... Look at the gorgeous goodies on the Pin Up Girl website. I've long been a fan - ever since I stumbled across the Greta Hawaiian Print dress - Modelled by yours truly above. The new range has some really exciting stuff that has my credit card itching.

The Kiss Me Deadly range is amazingly eye-catching - although partly that must be due to their fantastically pneumatic models. My eye was caught by the Polka Dot Wiggle Dress ($92) also in white on black, and plain black: the collar on the halterneck is so sharp - but sadly not bra friendly. The do, however, also have a really practical bolero jacket - something every girl should own - for $52.

Elsewhere on the site (and it's truly labyrinthine - a huge quantity of gorgeous stock). More wiggle dresses, this time by Pin Up Girl's own brand, in the form of the aptly named Jessica Dress. It comes in Hot pink/black (above), Burgundy/black, Houndstooth/black, and plain black, or scarlet red - all $88.

But it's not all slinky pencil dresses. The streetwear section of the site is chock full of ranges and designers from the states and UK. Prom dresses sit cheek by jowl with Tattoo influenced T-shirts in the section devoted to 'Lucky 13'. Elsewhere there are clothes for men, accessories and shoes.

Shipping is to be factored in though - rates start at $42, but depend on weight. They recommend buying together to make savings - but even then, it has to be a consideration. There's also the change that you'll get unlucky and UK customs will randomly select your package to levy import duty to - it's never happened to me, but it definitely happens.

The question is - can you truly resist?

A chat about shoes.

This conversation I had with a friend on a web forum amused me, so I thought I'd share.  She's recently bought the dress above, by the way...
  • What shoes shall I wear with orange dress please? Tall black patent looks a bit not right. White stilettos (I know, I know) look better but I have lost one. I am thinking a completely unrelated bright stiletto but where could I get it????
  • What size are your feet - these are a steal but only in some sizes now...    here - £9.                         
  • 5-6. Oooooh. They are lush.
  • Or something like this:  
  • Hell yeah! But tights with peep toes. Is well cold!
  • Or this:     

  • last two from schuh, btw.  Opaque tights with peep toes is fine.
  • Black tights? I am ordering the silver but feel I might die if I don't get the leopard ones too! They are the shoes I have been waiting my whole life for!
  • Yesss - but i'm not sure about black opaque tights with your frock. really you need sheer seamed stockings. but they would look ok with peep toes - those ones aren't too open.  
  • Yeah, I was thinking sheer stockings. I've never bought shoes online. What if they are too small? The disappointment would kill me.
  • Nothing ventured - you could always bind your feet.  Did they have the silver ones in your size? cool. i just checked and felt awful cos they only had them in size 3.
  • Only in red. Do I need red patent heels? Would like nice with new jeans...
    Though has decided must buy the others. Oh feel dizzy with shoe lust!! Thank you!!
  • hmm - these ones are only a tenner, and don't have the peeptoe...

    here.  Red patent heels can be good... the silver ones are special though. I have a pair of the silver ones coming...
  • Ta, but have been thinking about peep toed leopardskin for ages and have ordered them. Not sure if will wear with ze orange...oh yes I will. No one will notice the toe thing. And will hopefully just think: "she is wearing stockings", huzzah!

Vintage Undies

Despite being highly disappointing on bra sizing, What Katie Did are just brilliant for vintage and burlesque undies.

Check out their sale page for some generous reductions up to a size 18.  I rather like the 'Jane' range above for Tarzantastic Bettie Page style undies - including a girdlette suspender belt for £20.

Little and often this evening.  I've been neglecting you...

Monday, 12 January 2009

The internet is a trove of individual retailers selling all kinds of things – much of it dross, but sometimes you happen upon a diamond in the rough.

The other day I was idly looking for an evening dress. My sister is getting married in May – not six months after she was proposed to on Xmas eve: she doesn’t hang around. Her dress, naturally, is a secret – but it gives nothing away to tell you that it’s an evening wedding – black tie – and so I was looking for something long and gorgeous.

I stumbled across Roman Originals where I immediately saw and fell in love with this beautiful bias cut gown for a truly amazing £30. I have to confess I waited with baited breath for it to arrive – half expecting it to be made of lining fabric and held together with pritt stick, but no – it’s a good quality item. Pleasingly, it’s a deeper teal colour in the flesh, and not quite so shiny. Bias cut (where the grain of the fabric goes diagonally across the garment) is flattering because it skims across lumps and bumps – but only to a certain extent. I ordered the 18, and while I can get it on and done up, it will look infinitely better with a stone less ballast and some very supportive undies.

I also like it because of the sensible wide straps – perfectly placed to cover a balconette-style bra – where the straps are wide set. The structured cups are showstopping, but capacious enough to make me feel secure. My next task is to find a matching bolero.

But that’s not all. Tantalisingly, the site offers free delivery if you spend £40 so I set off on a little browse to see what else took my fancy. I don’t think I’ve ever experience such sartorial highs and lows in one place: there is some truly, astonishingly awful stock – but some good wardrobe staples too: very much worth a look. At any rate, I threw caution and taste to the winds and bought this truly tacky leopard print jacket for £23. Oh my. It’s even more trashy now it’s here. The fabric is shiny and textured in serpentine trails of gloss; the lace and glitz on the collar is beacon-bright. I don’t honestly know if I’m woman enough for it – but I do like a challenge.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Looks familiar!

It's the Spring/Summer incarnation of M&S's fabulous two-in-one frock - familiar to regular readers as the 'What I wore to Work' dress.  

£35 - and not as immediately appealing as the original, I still rather like it.  Shapewise, it has all the benefits of the original (as well as the drawbacks: those sleeves haven't got any longer) - and the new pattern for the shirt insert is less dramatic, but still plenty glam. Classy manifestations of animal prints are few and far between, but this fits the bill.