Category Archives: Lifestyle

The TK Maxx £50 challenge

TK Maxx dress

I love fashion and I love bargains. So, naturally, I was delighted when TK Maxx gave me a challenge. The brief was simple: visit their Cambridge store and choose a show-stopping dress for £50 or less. 

If you haven’t been to TK Maxx before, let me explain how it works. It’s a discount store – everything you find will be up to 60% less than the RRP. There are rails and rails of clothes and accessories. There’s everything from Stella McCartney and Jaeger to high street favourites like Dune and French Connection – plus great brands you won’t have heard of before. You never know what you’ll find.

When bargain hunting, the thrill is in the chase. The Cambridge store is spacious and uncluttered so it’s easy to start your search. Everything is divided into simple sections: coats, dresses, handbags and so on. I headed straight to the dress section and quickly found a huge armful of dresses to try on.

TK Maxx dress

I quickly found ‘the one’. A floaty autumnal number with a sparkly elasticated waist and cuffs. Perfect for early autumn, and great for later with polo necks underneath. Like all my favourite dresses, it’s easy to dress up and down. It’s by Love Is, a brand I’ve not come across before and it was only £29.99. No brainer.

TK Maxx dress

What to spend with my remaining £20? The ideal choice would’ve been this gorgeous clutch from Jaeger for £19.99 which I stood stroking for ages. HOWEVER, at the last minute I was tempted by a glimpse of a bottle green winter coat. At £39.99, it meant spending an extra £20, but I think it was worth it and it’s lovely.

TK Maxx coat and dress

You can shop online at TK Maxx too and there are lots of gorgeous dresses to be found. My exact dress isn’t online, but I did find it in a different colour. You can find my coat here. I’d always recommend visiting in person though so you have a good rummage and try lots of things on.

TK Maxx coat and dress

TK Maxx coat and dress

I wear: Green Coat, £39.99, TK Maxx

 Dress, £29.99, TK Maxx (available online in a different colour)

I was sent a £50 gift card for the purposes of this post. Thanks, TK Maxx for giving me such a fun challenge! 

 

Three things I’m loving this week

Vintage silk scarves

It’s the first official week of autumn! Cue much excitement from me. That seasonal magic gets me every time. This week I’ve been loving all the little signs that autumn has arrived: colder evenings, gorgeous produce and getting a spider’s web stuck to my face every time I get my bike out in the morning.   

Here’s what else I’ve been loving this week…

Vintage scarves. Those beige and brown silky little scarves from the 1970s are finally having their moment again. Ten a penny in the charity shop and so useful for adding a little autumnal hint to your jeans and tees. Mine was £1.99 from Oxfam, and there were loads to choose from. They go pretty well with a teddy coat too, mine is by New Look.

Vintage silk scarves and teddy bear coat

English rose cleansing balm by Marks and Spencer. I’ve been using cleansing balms for most of 2018 and I much prefer them to cream cleansers. Massaging a balm into your skin feels like such a nourishing way to cleanse your skin, leaving it feeling soft and plump. This cleansing balm from the Marks and Spencer Pure range has a very pleasing consistency, a little like lemon curd. It’s a pleasure to use. I have combination skin and this seems to keep my dry skin at bay, whilst not causing any unnecessary sheen on my nose and chin. Plus it smells amazing.

Marks and Spencer Pure English rose cleansing balm

Pumpkins. Forget conkers, I really know it’s autumn when I buy my first mini pumpkins from our local veg stall. I feel stupidly excited when I see them and buy lots  – mainly just so I can stroke them and put them on various windowsills.

Mini pumpkin

Wear bright pink and stop blending in

Wear pink and stop blending in

You can’t disappear in a crowd when you’re wearing bright fuchsia pink. It’s impossible. 

I’ve shied away from pink for years. Too girly, not me, attention seeking… I like to blend in, it makes me feel safe.

But here I am having a pink-coloured epiphany. I’ve worn it twice this week.

Pink jumper and grey trousers

What’s changed? Probably not my personality, but definitely my capacity for caring what others think. I’ll probably be the only one wearing bright pink at school pick-up time, but actually there are more important things to worry about in life. Plus, four years of blogging and taking photographs of myself has beaten down a lot of my natural awkwardness. If someone thinks I look stupid, then let them – at least they noticed me.

Wear pink and stop blending in

How am I wearing bright pink?

I don’t want to look like Delores Umbridge, so I’m avoiding any pink-on-pink action. I’m combining bright fuchsia pink with classic neutrals.  By which I mean denim, a soft grey or camel coat, an oatmeal jumper and some black boots. There’s nothing twee about that.

Feeling shy? Dip your toe in the water with a jumper

I bought this super-soft jumper from Marks and Spencer for £12.50. Such a nice flattering shade – perfect for autumn when the cold weather starts to bite and your tan is fading!

Marks and Spencer fuchsia pink jumper

Feeling brave? Wear a pink coat

A smart, structured pink coat is a useful thing. It’ll brighten up, or smarten up, most outfits. I’m still not brave enough invest lots of money on a pink coat, so I bought this Dorothy Perkins coat second-hand. A shy leopard can’t entirely change her spots, after all. I felt pretty empowered wearing it though and I shall make myself wear it as much as possible. It’s like pink body armour!

Wear pink and stop blending in

That’s why I’ll be wearing pink. Will you join me? 

Here’s the details of my looks, plus some other pieces currently available on the High Street:

Pink coat and jeans

I wear: Pink coat, Dorothy Perkins (second-hand) – similar here / Jeans, £60, Boden

 Jumper, £17.99, H&M (online only) / Black boots, £35, Marks and Spencer

Pink jumper and grey trousers

Pink jumper, £12.50, Marks and Spencer / Grey coat, H&M, similar here

 Black boots, £35, Marks and Spencer 

Checked trousers, Joanie Clothing, similar here

Lisa Snowdon Necklace, £60, QVC (gifted to me) / Ophia Ring, £35, QVC (gifted to me)

 

 

New season trends you already own or can buy second-hand

Fashion goes in cycles. You might not realise it, but you probably already have most of this autumn’s must-have items lurking at the back of your wardrobe. And if you don’t, you’ll be able to find most of them in the charity shop.

The key to being stylish is to wear these key pieces in new ways. It’ll bring a subtle originality to your wardrobe, without costing you a fortune. It’s also a far more thoughtful and sustainable way to shop – meaning you have more money for coffee and cake (or whatever).

I’ve taken some of my favourite looks from the new season which can all be created with things you already own or which can be easily found in a charity shop. I’ve also included good quality, but affordable new alternatives. 

Corduroy. We’ve been here a few times already, haven’t we? And now it’s back for autumn 2018. All the cool girls are wearing cord trouser suits – preferably in pink – although a simple blazer is a good starting point. I had rather a lot of cord in the early noughties – including several blazers. Sadly, I got rid of them all, but I bet some of you hung on to yours. Corduroy happens to be on-trend right now, but it’s always been around in the background. Which means it’s easy to find in charity shops or on eBay. Just remember to factor in a bit of money for dry cleaning. Make it 2018, choose blush pink or brown. 

New season pieces you already own or can buy second hand

Pink cord jacket, £39.99, H&M (bottom right). All other images via Pinterest.

A classic camel coat. Another perennial favourite that is having a moment in 2018. This trend has been around for a few seasons now, so luckily I already own two. My favourite is actually one I bought in the charity shop last year and wore and wore. It’s gone a bit bobbly, but I’m hoping to give it some TLC. I’ve seen some beautiful new versions at &OtherStories, but before you spend your cash try looking for something second-hand. Good quality wool coats are a perennial charity shop staple – especially those long, beige belted ones. If that fails, then do try eBay and search for classic brands like Boden and Hobbs. Make it 2018: choose a belted coat.

New season pieces you already own or can buy second hand

Main image: belted coat, £169, &OtherStories

top right: my favourite £10 charity shop coat / bottom right: Pinterest

The beret. Back again for another season. Did you buy one last year, or do you (like me) have one you bought years ago? Dig it out and wear now for jaunty autumn style. It’s not an expensive piece, but do take a look in the charity shops for a cheap and cheerful vintage buy. Make it 2018: choose blush pink like this one by H&M. Or, if you hate berets then try a baker boy!

New season pieces you already own or can buy second hand

Main image and top right: both via Pinterest / Bottom right: me in my old beret

Knee boots. Almost all of us already own a pair of these. They’re a classic that never go out of style – although in recent years have been eclipsed by the ankle boot. They look great with all the camel coats and corduroy we’ve already mentioned. My favourite way I’ve seen them worn is with long midi and maxi dresses and skirts. Inspired by the 70s, but very now. If you’ve got an old pair that are a bit battered, give them a makeover. I’ve had a pair of brown leather Hobbs boots for 15 years which I recently had re-soled and it’s given them a whole new lease of life. I took them to a small local cobbler and he gave them an amazing polish at the same time and made them look like new! Make it 2018: wear your boots with a high neck midi dress.

Main image: classic 70s vibes via Pinterest / top left: Erica Davies looking fabulous at London Fashion Week 

Leather boots by Hobbs, £299 (expensive, but Hobbs really do know how to make boots that will last for years).

What are your top tips for find new season style at the back of your wardrobe?

Make a wax jacket your best friend – featuring John Partridge & Co

John Partridge ladies wax jacket

A well-made wax jacket is a great thing. It’ll keep you warm and dry in just about any storm life can throw at you. 

I was recently sent a lovely wax jacket by John Partridge & Co. All their wax jackets are handmade in Britain and if you look after them they should last you a lifetime. I love how even a brand new wax jacket feels somehow lived-in – like an old friend, almost.

John Partridge ladies wax jacket

Traditionally wax jackets are a bit of a country uniform, but I’ve always loved them in the city too. Like all classic wardrobe staples, they’re versatile and look good in a variety of settings. They’ll also see you right though the seasons – from summer dresses through to chunky knits.

To prove just how versatile the humble wax jacket is in the town and city I’ve tried it three ways…

John Partridge ladies wax jacket

Casual coffee date with added leopard print. Yes, you absolutely can wear your favourite animal print with your wax jacket. It’s a perfect example of how versatile this classic piece can be.

John Partridge ladies wax jacket

Client meeting in town. I wore this smart dress for an office meeting. It was a breezy day and it looked like rain, so I threw my trusty wax jacket on over the top. I love the smart/casual result.

John Partridge ladies wax jacket

A trip to the market on my bike. My John Partridge jacket felt so at home at Ely Market. I kept cosy with a thick knit underneath. The mid-length Landowner jacket is perfect for cycling.

John Partridge ladies wax jacket

I wear the Landowner wax jacket by John Partridge & Co, £185

I know I’ll be reaching for this jacket again and again. It’s a brilliant investment piece and even has the name of the person in Staffordshire who made it sewn into the label!

A big thank you to John Partridge for sending me this jacket as gift. 

Re-learn the art of good shopping with John Lewis & Partners

John Lewis & Partners purse

In 2018, fashion is fast and furious. Traditional department stores are struggling to capture our attention. Will there ever be a place for slow, considered shopping again?

With just a few taps of your finger you can have that must-have piece from Instagram sitting in your online shopping basket. It’s like one eternal race to the bottom – quick, get it before it sells out and watch your bank balance diminish on the way down.

I miss proper shopping

Remember when you used to make an event of going shopping? It was fun and sociable (most of the time). Now I often get my shopping fix while squinting at my phone screen and shoving a sandwich down my throat. Elegant stuff, hey? The nicest of the big department stores still have the potential for something more civilised. I think it’s time more of us embraced that.

John Lewis & Partners culottes and purse

How can John Lewis & Partners help?

My invitation to see the new John Lewis & Partners women’s collection at their Cambridge store came just at the right time. Note the new name. It’s part of a larger re-branding exercise, but it’s also the store’s largest own-label fashion offering to date. This multi-generational collection has been designed to sit well in the stores and make shopping easier. It’s best viewed in person, the old-fashioned way.

A new lay-out

I’ve always found department store fashion to be very bitty – everything is spread out and it’s hard to find what you want. The new John Lewis & Partners collection is different. In larger stores, like Cambridge, exploring the range is like stepping into a giant walk-in wardrobe. Everything is together in one place and imaginatively sorted by colour. Like a giant paintbox, it’s easy to spot your favourite colours and styles.

John Lewis & Partners Collection

Learn how to shop again

Denise, a personal stylist at John Lewis & Partners Cambridge, reminded me that it’s far more clever to shop for whole outfits in one go, rather than single items. Impulse buying doesn’t always lead to the most cohesive wardrobe. The theory is: invest your money wisely and you’ll always have something to wear in the morning. It’s easier to do this when you’re shopping in person – you can see straight away whether something works rather than having to wait for the postman.

John Lewis & Partners capsule wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe made easy

Everything in the colourful new John Lewis & Partner collection is designed to go together. Don’t be afraid to mix bold colours. They’ve done the hard work of making sure everything works – all you have to do is pick out your favourites. I particularly loved the colour-drenched outfits the Cambridge staff put together to show us.

John Lewis & Partners capsule wardrobe

Three steps to style

A good outfit transcends fashion and age. John Lewis & Partner’s advice for putting together the perfect look is to mix three pieces: one basic, one hero and one accent. So we’re talking a classic knit mixed with a bold trouser, perfectly accessorised with a gorgeous scarf. Or a simple wool coat with a bright pink hero dress, accessorised with a gorgeous pair of heels.

Easy, right?

I’ve picked out my favourite outfits from the new collection, all following their three easy steps to style…

John Lewis & Partners Collection

Basic: Crombie coat, £249 / Hero: Midi dress, £99 / Accent: Slingbacks, £89

– all John Lewis & Partners

Basic: Navy cords, £49  / Hero: Rib Stitch Sweater, £39 / Accent: Scarf, £26

– all John Lewis & Partners

John Lewis & Partners Collection

Hero: Wool culottes, £99 / Basic: Grey ribbed sweater, £39 / Leather backpack, £125

– all John Lewis & Partners 

Some of the items I’ve linked to above are sold out online, however there was lots of everything in the Cambridge store. So, ditch the computer and take some time out to do some good old fashioned shopping! You can even book one of their free personal style consultations.

 

 

 

In praise of good jeans and epic sleeves

Boden Bronwen shirt and Cavendish girlfriend jeans

What do a good pair of jeans and some epic sleeves have in common? Happiness, that’s what. 

First, let’s talk about the mood enhancing qualities of a good pair of jeans. My body shape changes depending on the time of day, the month or the phases of the moon (or whatever) and a bad pair of jeans makes that a very bad thing. I have certain pairs of jeans I can only wear on good days (by which I mean slim days). And I hate that.

Boden Bronwen shirt and Cavendish girlfriend jeans

I want jeans that feel good and look good. It’s a tough gig.  Just occasionally you’ll meet a pair of jeans that fits the bill and, WOW, it certainly gives you a boost. The Cavendish Girlfriend jeans by Boden have everything I’m looking for: a slim, flattering leg combined with a generous enough cut to accommodate my decidedly ample bum and tum. It’s so refreshing to feel good and be able to breathe while wearing them.

Boden Bronwen shirt and Cavendish girlfriend jeans

If jeans are the bread and butter of any outfit, then a fabulous shirt is definitely the Morello cherry jam. The Bronwen shirt by Boden with its frilled collar is simplicity itself, until you get to the wonderfully flamboyant sleeves. They’re  the happiest bit of gold-coloured, embroidered frippery possible. Perfect for a bit of wow right now, but also later peeping out of your winter knits. I’m in love.

Boden Bronwen shirt and Cavendish girlfriend jeans

Boden Bronwen shirt and Cavendish girlfriend jeans

Boden Bronwen shirt and Cavendish girlfriend jeans

Cavendish girlfriend jeans, £60 / Bronwen Broderie Shirt, £70 – both c/o Boden

Three things I’m loving this week

Primark Dress

Hello! I hope you’ve had a great week. The boys are back at school and we’re starting to settle into our autumnal groove. I’ve been reading a lot and savouring the changing seasons. Here’s what I’ve been loving…

Hidden Lives, a family memoir by Margaret Forster. This is a truly excellent read. I’m going to gush about it in the hope that it’ll make you read it too. It’s the autobiographical story of Margaret, her mother and her grandmother. Three generations of women – one born in the nineteenth century, one in the early twentieth and one in the thirties. It’s a beautifully written examination of how women’s lives and expectations have changed dramatically during that period. The book takes us from giving up work when you married and back-breaking housework to the scandal of children born out-of-wedlock – and then onto Margaret’s liberating coming of age at university in the 50s. Find it here.

Hidden Lives by Margaret Forster

English apples. September heralds the reappearance of English apples. I like the to buy them from Ely Markets, who have some delicious early cropping, local varieties. The taste just blows you away – nothing like boring imported apples.

English apples

A new dress. I called into Primark to buy pants and came out with a new dress too.  Primark isn’t online, but this is £15 and there seemed to be plenty in store. As always, the sizing isn’t great – I had to go up two whole sizes! I’ll forgive them though as I love the colour and vintage look. I can’t decide if it looks more 1930s, or 40s? Maybe even 50s? Anyway, I love it.

Primark Dress

What have you been loving this week?

My five minute make-up routine

My quick 5 minute make-up routine

I only really started wearing make-up in my thirties, and even now I’ll have stretches of time when I won’t bother. But then I do and I remember why I love it. A little bit of make-up makes me feel like a better version of myself. I do it entirely for me, not for others. 

These days my two key requirements are time and quality. I like a quick five-minute (or less) routine that’ll give me a glow with minimum effort. To achieve this I’ve learnt that it’s worth investing in good quality products which seem to go much further and look much better.

Here’s my dream team:

Mini Miracle Eye Wand by Charlotte Tilbury (shade 2), £29. One end contains a moisturiser, the other a concealer. Applying the moisturiser first stops things looking cakey. I do a quick sweep then rub it in with my fingers.

Light Wonder foundation by Charlotte Tilbury (shade 3), £32. Yes it’s expensive, but a little goes a long way. I use a 5p size piece and either use my fingers or a flat-bristled foundation brush to apply it. It evens out my skin tone without looking (or feeling) heavy. I had my colour matched in the Cambridge John Lewis store.

Instant Look in a Palette by Charlotte Tilbury, £49. These limited-edition palettes are the dream. They contain blush, bronzer and highlighter – plus eyeshadows. I sweep it all over quickly for a light, flattering look. It’s so easy and looks great!

Cloud Paint by Glossier (beam), £15. I use this cream blush when I want a bolder colour on my cheeks. A tiny dot of this on each cheek creates a gorgeous rosy glow. I just rub it on with my fingers.

Mac Blotting Powder, £22.50. My mascara kept smudging, so I invested in this stuff. Putting it on under your eyes is supposed to help, and it has! Something to do with moisture. Anyway, it works. A quick dab before my mascara means no panda eyes.

Sumptuous Bold Volume mascara by Estee Lauder, £23. A nice to apply mascara that makes my lashes look gorgeously thick. I only use a quick sweep of the brush for daytime.

Secret Selma lipstick by Charlotte Tilbury (£24). My perfect neutral shade. Not too dressy or red, it’s just the perfect natural pink. You’ll find me wearing it in almost all of my photos.

My quick 5 minute make-up routine

These are the products I reach for each day. There’s a lot of Charlotte Tilbury as this is a brand I now really love and trust – and that’s important when you’re buying make-up, isn’t it? I’d love to hear about your favourite products – drop me a line in the comments below!

A September state of mind…

New Look Shirt Dress

Come September, I want my life to feel as neat and ordered as a pencil case full of freshly sharpened pencils. The start of every school year is a new start. Even when the playground is a distant memory that feeling is hard to shake off.

Life doesn’t stop for the summer, but it does change pace. As the trees start to change colour, my attitude shifts and I become more productive. Work, hobbies and ambitions all come back into focus.

A September state of mind

I don’t want to stumble into autumn, I want to meet it head on in my best pair of new shiny shoes. I’d be kidding myself if I said I’m going to feel my best self every single day. But I do want to look like I mean business. Remember your new school uniform? It made you stand up a bit straighter, even when felt a bit nervous on your first day.

The good thing about being a grown-up is that you get to choose your own uniform. Wear things that make you feel the way the way you want to feel. My September outfits always have a back-to-school look about them. Neat, smart and productive – with not a flip-flop in sight.

New Look Shirt Dress

A shirt dress is a great piece to invest in. It’s still cool enough for warmer days – but if you choose a dark colour it’ll also feel pleasingly autumnal. You don’t have to spend much – my black spotty one is from New Look and it’s £24.99.

September fashion: shirtdress and jumper

Add a loose knit on cooler days. Preferably one with a v-neck for just a hint of school days. I bet you have one lurking in your wardrobe, but if you don’t then this one is from H&M and it’s £17.99 (the oatmeal colour I wear is currently only available in store).

New Look Satchel and shirt dress

A satchel is always very appealing in September and it’s big enough for all your to-do lists. I bought mine from New Look last year and they still sell the same bag in a gorgeous brown colour. It’s £19.99.

This outfit, or some variation on the theme, is what you’ll mostly find me wearing this September. What will you reaching for?