Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Clothes That Work

Of course you made a new year's resolution to spend less this year, or at least spend more wisely. It's a tradition, right? But during what is the most miserable, soul-destroying month of the year it's all to easy to see those good intentions wither. I'm a pretty careful spender most of the year but there's something about January - a month synonymous with self-denial, tax returns and crap weather - that renders me most vulnerable to the impulse purchase. The massive charity bag I've just filled with unloved, unworn stuff is testament to that - it's full of rash purchases, often bought in the January sales - and provides a useful reminder that sales shopping can prove a very false economy.

So this year I'll be avoiding the sales and buying only tried and tested items that truly work for me. The realisation has dawned that I often buy things for my fantasy 'self'. But it's pretty pointless buying a suitcase full of Ibiza-esque, boho kaftans if you're going to be taking your summer holidays on a campsite in Lake Garda, for example, and you'll most likely be spending your time at the kids disco, watching them do the Macarena, rather than floating about In Ibiza Town, supping cocktails and listening to Balearic House. Yes, it's important to buy stuff for the actual life you're living, I've realised..

So this post is a round-up of those tried-and-tested wardrobe staples that I reckon work for the average person's day-to-day life - things that make sound investments if you like fashion but don't like having cupboards full of expensive, unworn clothes...

1. T-shirts from American Apparel

I can't bear a badly cut t-shirt. Tri-blend t-shirts from American Apparel are just right - just tight enough, just long enough. They wash really well and hold their shape, and have a slightly 70s neckline that I love. They come in a range of colours including the perfect grey. 

2. Cashmere jumpers from Uniqlo

Cashmere's reputation seems to give some retailers carte blanche for charging ridiculous amounts for a jumper. Yes, it should cost a bit more than bog-standard wool, but you shouldn't have to spend hundreds for the privilege of wearing the stuff. Uniqlo does great cashmere jumpers at a fraction of the price. You can buy online if you can't visit a store and I would recommend sizing up for the best fit - Uniqlo sizing can be on the small side. And forget what you've heard about cashmere being dry clean only - as long as you wash your jumpers by hand and dry them carefully they'll be fine (the inimitable Martha Stewart has a guide to hand washing wool here, which explains how to treat your cashmere with respect.)

3. Leather goods from Mango or Zara

I avoid buying synthetic shoes or bags - I just think they look really cheap and particularly in the case of shoes, they're rarely comfortable or hard-wearing. However, I have a real problem with ordinary, high street shoe shops charging prices that are far in excess of the quality on offer in their products. Mass produced, made in China shoes just don't justify the prices in many cases. Spanish labels like Mango and Zara, however, do leather goods that look expensive but aren't. The shoes are often made in Spain or places that have a strong tradition of making leather goods, such as Morocco or India. I bought some amazing leather sandals last year that I wore all summer, which are still in great nick, meaning I'll (hopefully) get another season's wear out of them.

4. Jeans from Zara

On the subject of Zara I would also recommend its denim. 'Premium' denim is another of my bete-noires; I simply can't see how much design can possibly go into making a pair of jeans, or how they can in some way be 'engineered' to do anything more than provide a handy, comfortable method of clothing one's legs. However, premium denim abounds, and my God, will it set you back - £200 for a pair of skinnies is quite normal nowadays. I have always loved denim and live in my jeans, but I just don't lead a life that makes wearing J Brand 'Photo Ready' jeans a necessity. Zara jeans are the best I've found on the high street (despite people raving about TopShop denim the cut doesn't suit me) and feature plenty of vintage style washes if you like that sort of thing (I do). They wash well, hold their shape and don't have any horrible detailing on them. If you have the time you should also check out TK Maxx - you'll often find Diesel, J Brand and Citizens of Humanity on the racks.

5. Different stuff from &Other Stories

Love Bristol though I do, it hasn't got great shops. The two main shopping hubs - Cabot Circus and The Mall - are fine for the everyday but if you're after something a bit different, they're limited to say the least. If you have a special event on the horizon or just want to inject your wardrobe with something a little less high-street-y, I would take a look at &Other Stories. The clothes are quite 'fashion forward' but in a good way. They're made well and fabrics feel expensive. The dresses and shoes are particularly good. 

6. Bras from M&S

As most of the nation's female population buys their bras from M&S, I'm not breaking any new ground by suggesting this as a go-to place for purchasing your smalls. But to be more specific, there is one style in particular that is good if a) you find paying £30 for a bit of lace, some straps and a clasp a bit annoying b) you don't require any extra padding c) you're after a good every-day bra that provides support and comfort. It seems that most retailers think we all want push-up, padded bras, making finding a non-padded, full-cup bra quite tricky - particularly if you're after something delicate and stylish rather than matronly. I swear by the M&S Collection all-over lace full-cup bra which you can take a look at here. Yes, that's TWO bras for £16. They're great for everyday wear, and if you look after them - hand washing is the way to go - they'll last you a while.

7. Sports Wear from Gap

You won't find Gap's sports wear that readily in its stores but look online for the GapFit collection and you'll find a really reasonable selection of tops, bottoms, bras and accessories. The quality of the materials stands up to expensive alternatives from the likes of big brand sports names or Sweaty Betty so if you just can't bring yourself to spend £80 on a pair of yoga pants, take at Gap's range for something a little kinder on the wallet.


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