Tuesday, 17 March 2009

I've been a little distracted...

...because I got engaged!

And with only five months to the wedding I've been enjoying working myself up to a fever pitch looking at dresses online. I won't be giving you the blow-by-blow on SSS, because most of you aren't needing that advice, but you can expect regular (if non-specific) updates. I've decided to have something made, so if any of you know a confident, competent, lovely and reliable dressmaker (as opposed to a couturier, since I already have a pattern) - please let me know! I need to speak to her (or him) and find out how long it will take to make, so that we can count backwards from mid-August and I know how long I've got to try and shrink myself.

I can't show you the pattern - or the dress, but I will detail the search for something flattering; the sleeve-or-not dilemma; the underwear missions; and of course, the search for the perfect shoes.

And in between times, it should be business as usual: keep your shopping dilemmas coming in, and I'll do my best, along with keeping an eye out for the good and bad being made and sold for us to wear.

Not quite the look I'm going for!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Easy access for scooby snacks.

Ok magic Charlotte, I have another assignment for you after you inspired me to find a great dress for my birthday. I am going to the wedding of two very dear friends on the first of May. The bride is an absolute stunner and very stylish, so while of course no one will be trying to upstage her, I suspect that every female guest will be upping their game in terms of wedding outfits. This will really be the first big event I'll have been to since the baby was born and I want to wow, BUT I will also still be breastfeeding said baby, so will need something with at least passable access to norks (and something not too dependent on a decent bra, as nursing bras are all pretty crap support-wise). Any help you can give me much appreciated! You know my shape and colouring, I don't mind spending a bit on something good quality.

So, it was way back in November, on my second ever SSS mission, that I last helped this lovely lady find a frock, and I'm flattered that she's back for more. Of all the concerns in her dilemma, obviously the one that's most important is finding something gorgeous, stylish and flattering - but the other issues - of easy access and chunky bra needs - are utterly non-negotiable, and have to be my starting point. Now I've never had to combine a fab frock with breastfeeding, so my understanding may be theoretical, but I do have boobs and bras to consider.

All the normal methods for providing quick access to boobs, such as halter necks, or strappy tops that can be slipped, loosely, off the shoulder, are going to struggle to conceal a bra. A wrap dress will provide coverage, but it might be hard to access a boob without exposing a great deal more, by undoing the dress completely. My solution is buttons.

My first choice is by Oli. It comes in black, but also this sophisticated red, and costs £44. The tailoring at the waist will help define the boobs - important if the bra doesn't work terribly hard. The skirt looks to be cut on the bias, for extra flattery, and I think the silhouette is a little bit 'wartime glamour' - which could be accentuated by retro accessories or ignored in favour of sharper, contemporary styling. My friend is slim, but this dress is available up to a size 20.

I wouldn't often recommend brown for this kind of occasion, but the pink here is gorgeous and crying out to be accentuated through some lovely accessories. I'd go smart and sharp with shoes etc to really contrast with the slightly shabby-chic stylings of the dress. It's by French Connection (£70). Look out for the darling butterflies in the chintz design, and the buttons which go all the way to the hem - which should make feeding access no problem at all.

Seemingly unavoidable this spring/summer is the shirt dress. On the one hand, almost all of these feature button fronts, but I'm reluctant to recommend them wholeheartedly. There's something quite utilitarian in style about a shirt dress - and it's therefore quite hard to make them look elegant and glamorous. Taller, slimmer women will generally find that easier, and it helps if the frock itself is in a fabulous colour or luxury fabric. The one above is by M&S, and costs £35. It's not terribly special, and being linen, it's going to crumple rather badly through the day, but I've included it principally because it doesn't have pockets on the bust. Unless you have very small boobs, you want to stay away from chest pockets - bizarre, horrible effect. (Incidentally, Next have some wrap dresses at the moment which are almost carbon copies of last season's DVF designs... except for some misconceived reason, they've appended little military style pockets over the boob. I literally could not believe my eyes. Utter insanity).

Of course - if anyone more experienced has suggestions as to incorporating breastfeeding with glam frock, let us know!

Incidentally, remember my slightly-unsuccessful mission for a bright blue wrap dress? Looks like Dotty Perkins were paying attention!

Friday, 6 March 2009

April in Belgium

Charlotte, I have a sartorial enquiry which I am hoping you can assist me with, please? I am going to a wedding in Belgium on 4th April. Now, you know I'm an antipodean and prone to chill, so I'm a bit worried about wearing anything too skimpy. On the other hand I am also quite vain and so not wearing a lovely frock is outta the question.

The wedding is not hugely formal, so I'll probably get away with anything I like really.
I'm thinking a frock with a nice wrap to keep me warm. But bearing in mind my arse/hips are a bit out of control at the mo with winter chubbiness, so something which will be kind to my chunky frame. However, I am hoping to go on a health kick before then - if this works, I'll need something that can cope with me being a few kilos lighter if need be, so not uber-tight or strapless, it'll be too cold for that anyways, I assume. I guess I should probably wait until closer to the time in case I trim down but the sales are so good at the moment, I think I should strike fast! I've been loving the 50s frocks lately, but am totally open to suggestions. Whaddya say, lady?? Thx in advance x

Let me first say to my readers that this lady is not 'chunky' by most definitions of the word - but doesn't that just go to show how just about everyone has parts that make them self-conscious. She also has a very particular type of fair colouring that I don't think would suit black near her face - so I'm going to be looking for gorgeous but subtle colours.

My first choice is by Wallis and costs £45. The flared shape is flattering over the bum and thighs, but it's a glamorous, fun length and has a dramatic neckline and some underbust tailoring to accentuate the boobs. The long sleeves make it perfect for spring - you should be able to forgo a warmer layer except when outdoors. If it is chilly, I'd wear it with some opaque tights to match the purple in the pattern, and some long boots. Wearing all that on the bottom should mean you don't feel the cold so much as a whole.

Even more glamorous is this spotty frock by Almost Famous (£29.99 reduced from £122!). Yes it's a little lightweight, but with a substantial shrug I promise you'll be nice and snug. Remember, you won't want to be too hot when you're strutting your stuff on the dancefloor. The profile is the same as the last dress - great for skimming bumpy bits without being shapeless. The colours are fantastic too - so many gorgeous shades to choose from when deciding your accent colour (the colour - or two - for your accessories, shoes, shrug etc). I quite like this pale 'old gold' shade, as regular readers will know (the choos!). It's very flattering to pale complexions, and glam without being OTT.

It's always worth a look on the Oli website for frocks, especially if you're a standard size. These two have very similar shapes, but they create a very different effect. The first is all glamorous sophistication (£65). The beading is gorgeous, and the Grecian neckline is classic and elegant. This kind of bodice works with anything up to average-sized boobs. It will make them look larger, but the beaded band at the empire line provides definition, and stops them looking droopy. The second dress is also probably only good up to a C cup, because it's a halterneck, and really, halterneck bras can be more trouble than they're worth. But never have I wished so hard for smaller boobs, because this dress is beautiful. It's altogether more casual, but then this isn't a particularly formal wedding. It's also a bargain at £35.

For most of these dresses of course, she's going to need something warm and cosy to cover up her arms. I feel really strongly about stoles / wraps / pashminas etc. The desired way of wearing them is covering the upper arm from just below the shoulder to sit in the crook of the elbow. Nice idea, but unless you give them your undivided attention, and don't try to move your arms much, what happens is that they constantly slip down to the elbows, leaving the upper arms chilly and exposed. You can't really dance and hold them in place, which may not matter much if you're wearing it for warmth but is a bit pointless if you're sensitive about your upper arms. Or you end up hooking the top over your shoulders, making the item a de facto shawl. Not a glam look.

Sorry - a bit of a rant.

So what, then? A shrug / bolero or cardigan is the answer, depending on the style of the dress, the formality of the event, and your figure. The names shrug and bolero are used interchangeably for a cropped cardigan or blouse - although a bolero may also be a cropped jacket. If you have a small waist you want to show off, or a dress with empire line tailoring, a bolero/shrug will be most flattering. Cardigans are best if you're wearing seperates, or an untailored / freeform dress. Be warned that a cardigan which finishes at the waist will draw attention to your bum and hips. If you don't want this, choose a longline cardi or a shrug. When fastening any of these items, big boobed girls should be very careful - do not fasten at all, or fasten only beneath the bust. Also, consider the detail of the dress or top you are covering. What shape is the neckline? How high is it? If you have beautiful detail like the Grecian dress above then you really shouldn't interfere with those lines at all - choose a cover up which can comfortably and attractively be left undone.

So, my first suggestion is super-glamorous, and would suit a simple, light dress such as the spotty one above. It's from Topshop (who have some absolutely brilliant coats and jackets at the moment, albeit in predictably limited sizes) - £60. The second is actually a maternity item, but it's a gorgeous colour and design (and it's £25 from Crave maternity - any mums to be). A bolero like this would work well over a very simple, tailored frock with a high neckline, like the Monsoon ones I mentioned here - sharp lines would clash with unstructured knitwear. The third (£36 - Monsoon), though, is the most versatile piece. I've chosen blue to coordinate with the third dress, but our girl may want to choose another colour as an accent (pewter? purple?) to add interest to the outfit. It's essentially just a fine-knit cardi with a shorter length: comfy and warm. If you're slim choose one in mohair or angora. But lightweight knits will enable you to keep the shrug on, even on the dancefloor.

I've been sitting on this mission for a couple of weeks - so apologies.

edit! Good lord, reading this back it had some horrible mistakes and missing links - please let me know about these... oh, the shame....

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Baby, it's cold outside

Not the sort of thing, apparently...

Hey there ms Charlotte,
I have a problem from Australia land that maybe you could help me with. Down here summer will be over in a few weeks so I have decided to look for a new winter wool coat. Problem is most of them look AWFUL on me. I’m 5’3”, size 16, top heavy. I have pale skin, grey/blue eyes and dark hair at the moment. Most coats that fit me around the waist and hip strain around the bust. Coats that fit around the bust make me look like I’m wearing a large woolen sack, as well as most sleeves stopping somewhere around my thumbs cos of my short arms. I’m not keen on trench coats and sadly even though I think duffel coats look adorable they generally look shit on me. Any suggestions?

Hmm - I've had this mission on the back burner for a while, but I'm really struggling for two reasons. Firstly, I know absolutely nothing about Australian retailers. I've tried to research, but I'm just not 'there' with my knowledge. Secondly, over in the UK / US, retailers are already well into Spring/Summer - but I will never admit defeat. What I'm going to do is find some pictures of coats that have the flattering qualities our girl is looking for.

Coat number one (Paul Smith - £293) has a decidedly retro feel, fusing swing stylings with a modish crombie-style lapel. The shorter length and bracelet sleeves mean that there's flexibility over the length of both: shorter sleeves may sit anywhere along the lower arm to within about three inches of the wrist whereas full length sleeves really ought to hit the wrist dead on. It's generally a good idea for shorter people to wear shorter coats/dresses too. Although a clean vertical line may be elongating, a heavy garment can look like you're being dragged down to the floor, or overwhelmed. Double breasted garments will make anyone look wide and chunky, so this clean single breasted collar is great, and the deep V is flattering. It's also the case that it fastens below the bust line. Girls with big boobs should look out for this - you may well be able to get away with a closer fit than you would do if the button was higher up; essentially, your boobs fit into the gap. The overall A line shape of this coat, though, may run the risk of looking bulky.

This apple green coat is by Nanette Lapore and costs an eye-watering £405. I'm really not suggesting anyone spend that kind of money on a coat, but I am looking for pictures of things that I reckon will be influencing high street designers - this coat features a big bow at the back, and already that's something I've seen on several coats at topshop. It would work because it's a thinner fabric, which means that the waist can be cinched in a little without looking bulky. The full 'skirt' will balance out the big boobs, and again it's single breasted. My other reason for liking it was colour. I know I've said that green is difficult - and it is - but the combination of pale skin and pale eyes can (but not always) make dark colours hard to wear. The problem with colour, is that coloured coats tend to be thinner fabrics. But then, thinner fabrics are slimming... You can always rock some super stylish scarves, gloves and hats over the winter.

A cheaper option, but continuing a similar profile is this mac from Topshop (£75). There were a lot of belted coats this winter, but unless you have a very boyish figure with little defined waist, stay away from belts on thick coats. It looks bulky and chunky. On a mac, though, it's fine. Here we have the fuller skirt for balance, the lighter colour, a belt to cinch and the all-important single breasted styling. That top button is going to be on the bust line, though - and that means you'll have to make sure the fit at the top is bang on, at the expense of a closer fit elsewhere.

My last suggestion is not to choose a style which accommodates your figure, but find a coat that fits. UK readers who are top heavy can buy from Bravissimo - the bra specialists. Their coats are cut to fit over the boobs but without excess bulk at the waist. Which is why both the coats above can get away with having belts. The first is in the sale, in very limited sizes, at £49 - reduced from £112.50. Notice the single breasted styling. The second - jacket length but wool/nylon/cashmere mix for warmth - is £77.50. Bravissimo do mail order to Australia, but don't publicise the shipping costs. The alternative would be having something made or altered to fit. Perhaps a coat is something one doesn't buy that often, and so is worth getting right.

So - to recap:

Flattering (for our girl):
  • Single breasted
  • Lighter colours
  • Deep V necklines
  • Belts on lightweight fabrics (cold weather notwithstanding)
  • Full skirts
  • Shorter lengths
  • Bracelet-length sleeves
  • Made to measure

Unflattering (for our girl):
  • Double breasted (Including military styling)
  • Dark colours (probably)
  • High necks
  • Straining buttons
  • Belts on thick fabrics (if non-specialist fit)
  • No fitting below the boobs
  • Long lengths
  • Full-length sleeves (unless altered to fit)
Good luck - let me know what you find.

Balancing your account.

I have no idea what I actually own, by way of clothes. I hang everything on the floor (or thereabouts) because I have too many things to put away, but then I can't find anything, so I only wear a small fraction of my gear.

I plan to make a list of what I do own. Every day I shall record what I'm wearing, for a start. I shall also purge my drawers and wardrobe of anything I don't wear.
  • If I absolutely love it with all my heart, but it doesn't fit at the moment - it's going in the cellar.
  • If I don't love it, but it's made by Monsoon, or another desireable brand, or is vintage - it's going on ebay.
  • If I don't love it and it isn't worth the faff of ebaying, I'm taking it to the clothes swap* on Thursday.
Then, every night before I go to bed, I have to put away more items of clothing from the 'clean' pile than I'm adding to the 'dirty' one.

You never know - it might work.

*The clothes swap. On thursday a fantastically kind mate is inviting a bunch of girls around to hers. We each bring our wardrobe surplus - and people try things on and go home with new stuff. It's brilliant. Of course most people bring a handful of items - the first one I went to, I brought an absolutely massive suitcase full. But I have a lot of stuff. It barely made a dent. Anyway, it works best if the guests have someone else of a similar size, or who has been a similar size, to swap with - but you can bring accessories, jewellery and shoes - and anyway, my clingy top might be just the thing for my size 10 friend to wear as a beach coverup. The more guests the host can accomodate, the better it works. Afterwards, the leftovers are taken to a charity shop.

I'll let you know how it goes.

My sisters and Mum and I have been threatening to do one of these with cosmetics and body potions, which I think is an excellent idea too.

So listen - plan a swapping party. It's completely environmentally fabulous, credit-crunch sensitive, and makes room in your wardrobe to see the wood for the trees.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Imagine being less than perfect in LA.

To my knowledge, I don't have any regular readers in Los Angeles, and I really wouldn't want to live there myself. I visited once, and it was fine... not terribly interesting - but it is the home of the seeming-compulsory 'single digit' dress size. Above a US size 8 (equivalent to a UK/Aus 12), there's a perception that you're something of a horror. I gain this insight from some reading on the LA Times website, where some articles on the subject of plus size shopping gave me pause for thought.

The main article was sent to me by Sarah (of the fabulous Agent Provocateur shoes), and intelligently puts the case that, although larger women aren't going short of clothes, they lack access to design and fashion. It explores the reasoning behind that, since it clearly isn't a commercial decision. Eye-opening, and not terribly uplifting, it is nevertheless well worth a read - if only for a choice piece of nastiness from the mouth of Karl Lagerfield.

The average American woman is a size 14 (uk size 18), and in the UK we're about half a dress size behind. Yet most design-conscious retailers would rather go to the economic wall than sell her a frock. Get a grip.