Thursday, 19 February 2009

Marks and Sparks and the capsule wardrobe.

You know all those promotional emails from internet retailers? I read them. One such came today from Marks and Sparks, announcing a capsule wardrobe collection called 'Dress for Less'. It's okay, I suppose: the dress would be nice unless you have no boobs / tummy issues, but I'm not inspired. The whole concept of a capsule wardrobe strikes me as odd. Buy five (or thereabouts) pieces and rotate them through all permutations to fulfill every sartorial eventuality in any given season.

Where's the fun in that?

M&S have chosen from a fairly limited price range for their pieces:
  • Dress £29.50
  • Jumper £18.00
  • Jeans £19.50
  • Skirt £19.50
  • Blouse £7.50Align Centre
Which comes to a total of £94. And yet, I don't think it's terribly versatile at all - two of the outfits are almost identical and four of them are pretty much exclusively smart /workwear. I don't think that scoop neck jumper works with the blouse, and there's no arm coverage if you're wearing the frock. It's also horribly grey. I think I can do better.

My first choice is a versatile frock - don't worry it comes in black, but this clovery pink is absolutely gorgeous and will suit just about every skintone except the very rosy of cheek or flame of hair. The less fitted cut is more forgiving below the waist, the sleeves provide coverage and the asymmetrical draping at the bust and waist (but not over the hips) provides flattering diagonal eye lines. It would be fun as it is for a birthday party or meal out, and with the next item, is completely respectable and smart for work. £25.

Item two: you can never have too many vests. Vests take up hardly any drawer space (fold in half lengthwise, then roll), are cheap and last forever. My choice is this Lace panel empire line vest £9.50. Not lacy as in see-through, but detailed and feminine on the part that's going to be visible under your dress. If you preferred the black dress, then you have the choice of keeping the vest black too, or going for the cream version, which may be a less draining colour to have near the face. And when else can you wear it? Around the house or visiting friends at the weekend - you'll need something warm on top, though.

This cardigan (£39.50) might not look terribly impressive, but it has great potential. First, imagine it undone with the belt tied loosely behind the back - it has clean lines, good drape and will serve as a soft jacket for the dress. Now imagine it over the vest top - it has cashmere in the mix so it'll feel soft next to your skin. Personally, at home I'd leave the buttons undone but do up the belt - in the manner of a dressing gown. Then, when I'm out with friends the buttons are done up, covering all my wobbly abdomen bits. Err on the side of generosity for size if you do have wobbly bits - you don't want the buttons to strain. Oh, and keep your hands out of your pockets - silly model!

So - vest on top: on the bottom? These Bootcut Linen trousers are as smart as you want to make them, and a bargain at £15. Press the seams if you need to be work-smart, or wear like pyjama pants when the pressure is off. I love black linen - the creases show less in black, I find, and you can wear these trousers with smart shoes, trainers, and even flip flops into the summer. You could even wear them underneath the dress, if you like that hippy kind of look, especially if you made the dress a little less formal by breaking up the clean neckline with a long scarf or beads.

And lastly? A proper top to wear with those trousers. I'm not a big fan of blouses, because they don't flatter my boobs - but this short-sleeved gingham blouse (£12) is too cute not to love (check the link - gingham doesn't show clearly in small photos). It comes in red or black, and will work with or without the cardigan in a workplace environment. If you have bigger boobs, wear it with the vest top and unbutton it to relieve strain on the buttons and give a flattering V neck, and then everyone can unbutton it all the way for a more casual look - or, if you want a country-flavoured party look, knot the unbuttoned shirt below your boobs - leave the vest off if you have fabulous abs to flaunt.

So that's my version. Mine comes to £101 - so it's a tad more than the original collection - but I gave you a cashmere mix cardi. Replace that with the more standard polycotton version (pretty much identical except for the lack of belt), which is only £25 and my total is a snip at £85.50.

More importantly, these are wearable, practical, yet gorgeous clothes which can be worn to flatter most ages and shapes - and adapted for a true variety of occasions. For me, the exercise has been theoretical: even if you were into the capsule wardrobe as a concept, you've no reason to restrict yourself to one shop. But there's no reason for wearable, versatile clothes to be dull - no matter how many of them you buy.


  1. I agree about the concept of capsule wardrobe being distinctly un-fun. But I must say, I tried on the dress today in M&S and it is quite lovely. The only reason it's not now in my possession is that I thought I would have a quick check out of Debenhams before going back to Marks to make purchases and it had gone in my size. Now I have that feverish terror at having HAVING to buy something.

  2. I knew you'd love it - it's very you. But most of the rest of us can't all get away with it. Anyway, order it online, silly.

  3. I have bought it. I tried it on in Bromley and then put it down while looking at other things, thinking, oh they'll have loads, I'll go get one when I am ready to pay. I went and, yes, you can imagine, it had sold out in my size. Sniff. Nevermind, I thought, I'll get it on the web. But NO! It's soldout there too. My heart practically stopped. The horror! So anyway, there was one at Bluewater, so I drove there and it took an hour and half to get there. But anyway, now it is mine. Hurrah!!!


Thanks for commenting - always nice to know I'm not talking to myself...