2012 November 6

Really? Well according to Angela Kelly, who has been the queen’s personal dresser for nearly two decades, Queen Elizabeth II has ‘fantastic understanding’ of both clothes and fashion.

Apparently she knows what suits her, is cost conscious and wants to ensure that she doesn’t overspend to look good. Fabrics have to be tested to ensure they don’t crumple and look bad when they have been sat in.

Can the average Joe learn anything from this information?

Yes, actually. Three things:

1.    Know what suits you – fashion’s great and if you’re One Direction you might be able to get away with the retro haircut, statement knitwear, puppy cuddling level of fashion forward that some guys fall for, but generally that’s a really dangerous road to take. If you have a pencil neck then don’t wear V neck T-shirts, if you have a pot belly, slim fit polo-shirts are not your friend. You know it, and no amount of fashion hyping of a particular trend will make that trend work for you.
2.    Don’t overspend – a jacket should cost no more than a seat at a premier league game: more than that and you’re heading for a place where the garment has a higher credit rating than you do! Well, maybe not, but when you’re hesitating about spending ‘that much’ on one item of clothing, it may be better to spread that money over a range of items: eg six decent T-shirts, new socks and pants that will upgrade your entire look, not leave everything else you own looking tatty by comparison to your fashion icon garment.
3.    Test the fabric – you may not have a dresser to crumple things for you, but you can examine the washing instructions and make sure that you do what the label says – it can increase the life of a T-shirt by a year to wash it according to the instructions!

2012 September 17

A recent UK study suggests that schools and colleges without a uniform actually cost parents around twice as much in new clothing as those with a strict policy of uniform wearing.

Sixth form colleges in particular seem to drive up the costs, as 16-18 year olds appear to have complex clothing demands than younger children. Over a thousand parents took part and it was revealed that 91% had  bought clothing for teenaged children to wear back to school in the autumn term and the split between uniform wearing and non uniform wearing provision was almost equal. Uniform expenditure was around £80 per child while non-uniform expenditure was estimated to be in the region of £165.

The survey recommended that parents try to check out discounts available and look at keeping costs down through buying in bulk or with other parents to get free delivery and BOGOF offers.

Prom clothing is also an issue – many academies in the UK now have proms as part of graduation and the investment in formal wear can be expensive. To guide a teenager through the process, it’s a good idea to get them thinking well in advance; to look at hiring prom wear; and if that’s not possible or acceptable to the fussy graduate, to line up an agency that will re-retail prom clothing, giving a percentage of the sale back to the original buyer.

2012 August 14

Amid rumours that Ryan Lochte is heading for a modelling career, and a series of photo-montages of the Ab-lympics, where the best six-packs of the games were flaunted, mainly by men, it’s been a period in which the male body has been worshipped, in Britain, as never before.

So it’s odd that for the ‘fashion’ section of the closing ceremony there were eight female models and just one man. Admittedly the man was David Gandy, British born, and the pre-eminent male model of his generation, but why only one guy?

The answer probably lies in clothing differentiation. The only way to get a second male onto the ‘catwalk’ would have been to take an extreme clothing leap, like David Beckham’s sarong, because for men, clothing is limited and fashion clothing even more so. Gandy wore a Paul Smith suit, and if more men had appeared in other suits, they would have looked like they were escorting the women, not like fashion statements in their own right. The women’s dresses were all white or white and gold, or gold but were highly differentiated in a way that isn’t possible for male clothing.  Still it wouldn’t have been impossible to have a man in high fashion sports clothing – Stella McCartney is famous for her luxe sportswear, after all?

So what should the fashion conscious man be looking to wear if it’s not a Paul Smith suit? This year’s fashion trends are predicted to be gold, gold and gold, and anything that even passes for gold, so yellow polo-shirts, mustard-coloured cord and cotton trousers and scarves with gold detailing are all big for men. Also a key feature will be ‘flashing’ which is not running around with nothing on, but the effect that sports clothing produces when two different colours or textures are used to create interest when somebody moves – think about the gold details on the tracksuits worn by the Torch relay – that’s ‘flashing’ and it’s expected to turn up as knee patches on jog trousers and elbow patches on hoodies.

2012 July 4

It’s long been known that clothing conveys both clear and covert messages about us. The banning of military uniforms from some pubs, for example shows the tension between pride (in a uniform) and resistance to control which results in rebellions against uniform wearers (or pub brawls!)

On the other hand, many of us rely on visual clues from other people’s clothing to help us make decisions about them, without much evidence as to how we process that information or how reliable it is. Now researchers at the University of Kansas and Wellesley College in Massachusetts have found that in some ways our ability to guess at other people’s personality traits through clothing are very reliable.

Their study involved asking people to give detailed information about themselves, along with a photograph of their most-worn shoes. Other people were than asked to decide the age, gender, rough income and level of agreeability based entirely on the picture of the footgear.

One thing that the guessers got right was the degree of attachment anxiety (fear of being separated from friends or loved ones) each shoe owner had.

What people found difficult to assess was the degree of attachment avoidance (fear of committed relationships), extroversion and conscientiousness. They also couldn’t guess people’s political beliefs from their shoes.

So what does your footwear say about you?

1.    If your most worn shoes are practical: walking shoes or boots, for example, you’re probably agreeable and easy to get along with.
2.    Designer shoes that haven’t been looked after: you’re actually a bit arrogant because you’ve bought something expensive but can’t be bothered to take care of it – this doesn’t bode well for your emotional relationships, according to those who are looking at your feet.
3.    Trainers and formal clothing: Converse with a suit, or Nike Air with a skirt and shirt might seem quirky and non-conformist to you, but the viewer sees your shoes as a sign that you’re trying too hard – a real non-conformist wouldn’t bang two styles together for effect.
4.    Sandals and socks: you’ve given up on both work and personal progress.

2012 May 18

There has been a lot of discussion in the media recently about the love lives of certain men, some of which has been fuelled by recently published or up-coming biographies of famous men, detailing their conquests in the boardroom and the bedroom.

One thing that’s interesting about some of these men is that they are immediately identifiable by their distinctive and limited clothing choices. Simon Cowell, for example, wears jeans. He wears jeans with a white T-shirt, or a black T-shirt, or a white shirt. Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld both wear fitted suits in black with white shirt, black tie and – for Lagerfeld, shades.

There are advantages to having a casual uniform.

1.    You never have to coordinate anything – your clothes all work together, all the time
2.    If you choose a look that suits you, you always look your best, so you can get on with your life (perhaps that’s how Cowell does it? Less time in front of the mirror equals more time spent spotting talent?)
3.    You don’t have to spend time shopping.

On the downside, the casual uniform can go horribly wrong

1.    Your look may date you – Simon Cowell’s high waistbands have earned him a lot of derision
2.    You may become clothing wallpaper – if you’re not a millionaire mogul or a fashion high flyer your chosen look might lead to you blending into the background once people get used to seeing you around.
3.    Your look may not be your best – Jimmy Savile may have thought he looked great in a tracksuit but Gok Wan might have told him to lose the trackies and get stylish!

2011 November 29

According to one author, there are three levels of business clothing:
1.    Traditional
2.    General
3.    Casual
And if you’ve never been sure what made business clothing and just ‘work clothing’ different, it’s all about the game, apparently.

Knowing which of these is appropriate for the business you work in is empowering to you and in the USA, at least, you can be coached to find the right way to dress. If you think your business clothing could do with a boost, there’s no need to hire a coach. Use our simple guide to work it out.

Traditional – business suits, of course, with collared shirts and ties. Women get to wear both trouser suits and skirt suits, leather shoes (no open toes for either gender) worn with socks or tights – no bare legs even in summer! Basically it’s the kind of clothing that should be worn to a business awards dinner – what we in the UK would call posh, and the Australians call a ‘frocked up’ event.

General – still requires a tie and formal shirt from men, but can mean wearing a tailored jacket and trousers rather than a full suit. Women can now add businesslike dresses (nothing floral or floaty) and smart trousers if they are worn with a tailored jacket.

Casual – finally men can ditch the tie, but they need to stick to wearing suit type outer garments with sports shirts, knit shirts like polo shirts with formal trousers, and smart jumpers over a collared shirt. For dress down days, chinos can be worn. Women can now wear trousers with formal shirts, skirts with blouses without a shirt, two-piece knitwear with tailored skirts or smart round-necked T-shirts with a formal skirt and tailored jacket. Peep toe and sling back shoes are still unacceptable, even in dress down days.

2011 October 31

A new study in the peer-reviewed Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE suggests that our perception of clothing may actually influence our judgements about race.

The study required participants to classify each image that appeared on a screen as being either a black or white person, but the images were randomly computer assigned clothing that was either considered to have low social status (a caretaker’s uniform or jog pants) or  something high status such as a business suit or formal shirt.

Interestingly, most participants were heavily influenced by the clothing worn by the computer generated image, and clothing stereotypes literally altered the way they saw people – the ethnic race of each face was deliberately ambiguous so the participants relied on clothing cues and many decided that people in high-status clothing were white, regardless of the ambiguity of the face. While the results of the study challenge a widely held belief that perception of race is a simple judgment, based purely on a person’s facial features, there is also fascinating information about how clothing influences the judgements that we make about individuals.

As an example, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Steve Jobs once thought about getting all Apple staff to wear a uniform like Japanese companies do. Despite being persuaded against this by the almost universal rejection of his idea by his workforce, he went on to establish a personal ‘uniform’ of jeans and black turtleneck sweater which has gone on to become an industry standard with around 70% of IT people adopting the dress code of chinos and polo-shirt. The new CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, is fitting right in by wearing dark-collared polo shirts for the cameras, making clear his identification as a ‘geek’ rather than an ‘exec’ which allows Silicon Valley to embrace him as Jobs’ successor.

2011 October 24

As Gok Wan produces the ‘perfect’ flattering dress for Sainsbury’s and M&S claim theirs is even more perfect, spare a thought for the many women who don’t get to dress in a particularly feminine fashion at work. It’s still possible to look great and dress for practicalities, with a few tips on how to choose casual clothing:

1.    Buy the best jacket you can afford – a badly fitting one looks like you’re wearing a sack. If you work in an environment where you have to move around a lot, choose a jacket with sleeves that can be zipped off to make a gilet for warmer moments. Reversible jackets allow you to ring the changes on your appearance at no extra cost.

2.    T-shirts make a work wardrobe special – stick to bright clear colours and set them off with antique brooches if you’re allowed to wear jewellery – this gives an impression of class without cost.

3.    Where possible, colour-coordinate your scarf, hat, gloves, belt and shoes. Brown leather is the absolute gold standard for classic dressing, and can be teamed with a bright scarf, hat and glove set to give a fashionable look for little cost.

2011 September 8

It’s always worrying for parents when a child dislikes their new school, or dreads the beginning of another school year. It can seem inexplicable: the child may enjoy the subjects they are studying, and have friends they are looking forward to seeing again, but even so, they may feel ‘down’, worried and even become tearful and frightened at the thought of school.

There are several ways to help a nervous or unhappy child get over the first days of the new term:

Memory banks for both sexes – instead of forcing your child to think forward, encourage them to think backwards: creating a scrapbook about the summer which records their best memories of the school break can be a good way of getting them into the groove of school again. The best way to use a scrapbook is to fill it from the front to the back with memories and from the back to the front with plans, so that a child can prepare pages for school trips, for birthday parties in the months ahead and for half-term ideas, all of which balance out the fun of school and the fun of holidays.

Self esteem for girls – sometimes it’s low self-esteem that triggers a bout of fear so taking a daughter for a haircut, or helping her revamp her wardrobe can be enough to remove the feeling of inadequacy. Don’t suggest it as an answer though, just plan a family trip to the hairdressers or suggest that you go through her school clothing with her while you talk over the problem … that way you can suggest a couple of items that would add to her clothing choices. For older girls, try offering a budget and letting them have a friend round to shop online together – this allows them to exercise the power of choice and to work out how to get the most for their money, both attributes that boost self-esteem.

Self-esteem for boys – often boys struggle with their feelings, so getting them involved in an activity where they can express their emotions, such as drama, can be the simplest way to release fears and tensions around school. Sports, unsurprisingly, are also a great safety valve, but rather than football or after-school activities, enrol him in a mixed age sport like a martial art. A class where they will be able to see and hear older people than themselves coping with challenges, making fools of themselves and getting over it, and winning and losing in public gives them the chance to learn the skills they need to feel secure at school. A martial art also teaches boys how to care for their appearance and clothing and to be polite in public: key features of a successful school career.

2011 August 31

Many women find themselves struggling to make good clothing choices when they are juggling home and childcare, and given that it’s just been revealed that women are still paid around £500 less a year than men, and many are also having to provide support to elderly relatives, it’s even more important to get the best from a clothing budget that has to go from home to school to work and back again.

No pressure buying

Buying online is a great way to be able to take your time. Rather than dragging the kids round the shops, or feeling pressured to make swift choices so you can get back to do childcare or elder supervision, shop at home with a glass of wine and only buy when you feel ready to do it!

No sweat choices

Choosing navy blue or grey or black as a base colour and then picking three coordinating colours to go with that base, means everything works together. Pick a simple dress in your base colour, and then choose a V-necked long sleeved T-shirt to go over it in one of your three coordinating colours. Add a pair of leggings or thick tights in your second coordinating colour. Choose a scarf and belt in your third colour. With the addition of black tights, a black T-shirt and a white short sleeved shirt, you’ve got six outfits all based on the same basic dress. For more ideas see the Uniform Project where one dress with accessories is taken through 365 days.

Nimble clothing

Lay out your outfit the night before you want to wear it, including the shoes and underwear you need. Then put beside it a cold weather option (scarf, pashmina, cardie) and a hot weather option (sunhat, sunglasses, sandals instead of boots) and whatever happens, you will be ready to rock in good time for the school run!