It’s quite rare, these days, that an outfit will make me feel truly great. Great with no caveats. Great “but also I don’t have to worry about my dress flying up in the wind” or great but “also I don’t have to worry about my middle button popping off where my gut has stretched the fabric so much.” Great, but without the associated fashion stresses.
Because it stresses me (in a very minor way) even putting together an outfit – that’s nothing to do with having had kids, I’ve always been crap at dressing myself – and so by the time I’m actually wearing something decent, and I’ve found shoes to match that won’t kill me and a coat that’s not covered in mud, I’m truly indifferent. I’m usually just relieved to have been able to get dressed without tripping over my own legs and knocking myself out (Levis flagship store, Oxford Street, 2009) or getting my head stuck in a tight neck-hole (Ghost sample sale, Westbourne Grove, 2004) or temporarily dislocating a shoulder getting into a couture Dolce & Gabbana corset dress (Elle Magazine fashion cupboard, Mayfair, 2010).
So I’ve been taking particular notice of the times that clothes do make me feel good – properly good – and making a bit of a sartorial wishlist. Because feeling good in clothes – for me at least – isn’t necessarily just about knowing that they flatter me or look expensive or turn me into a more sophisticated version of myself; I also gain immense pleasure from clothing that’s practical and comfy. A sexy skirt that also allows me to run for a bus without flashing my knickers, a power suit that won’t look absurd with trainers, a cashmere sweater that’s supremely warm and makes the oldest jeans look expensive again.
What I’ve realised, recently, is that what I truly want from a garment – indeed an entire outfit – is the following: comfort, elegance, intelligence. In no particular order. Actually in that order. And by intelligence I don’t mean that I want my trousers to make me look brainy: I want the cut to be clever. I’d like my dress to cinch me in and give me shape but skim over the parts I want hidden. I’d like my sleeves to add interest and my shoulders to add power – even the humble jumper should make my chest look good and shapely and not blocky or matronly.
It’s a lot to ask, but this is what I want. It’s my Nearly-Aged-Forty sartorial wishlist. (Thirty-nine next month: jeepers where did that decade go? I started A Model Recommends almost a decade ago! Hands up those who’ve been here since the beginning…) I don’t want fast fashion, I don’t want cropped things, I don’t want overpriced slips of wishy-washy fabric that only look good on the model, I don’t want anything that I can only wear once, I don’t want tight gussets or waistbands that don’t expand and I don’t want – I definitely do not want – leggings that are intended to be worn as outerwear.
That’s not to say that I’ve given up on fashion (apart from when I’m at home, which is 90% of the time): I still refuse to wear lycra as outdoor, meeting-the-public clothing and I will never see the merit in any kind of footwear that people delight in calling “ugly”, as though that’s a selling point (ignore my Crocs, I only wear those to feed the chickens – jet-washable, you see). I still want to look good, I still want to look put-together and polished, I’m just not prepared to sacrifice comfort.
Which means, I think, that my clothes have to work ten times harder. To be comfy and to still look chic – to be practical yet flattering enough that I don’t look in the mirror and want to instantly walk backwards into the wardrobe and shut the doors on myself.
And I’m really starting to see certain fashion investments pay off, ten or fifteen years later; things that I bought when It Bags cost less than a grand. The Jil Sander coat with an impeccable cut, the cashmere Burberry trench, the Belstaff Trialmaster boots, the Diane Furstenberg maxi-dress… All heart-stoppingly expensive, even then, but still going strong with over a decade’s worth of wear. The tailoring is timeless, the quality so good that everything just keeps going and going – I’ve had countless pairs of black boots from the high street that my Belstaff’s have outlasted.
Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a fast fashion/investments sort of post, I merely wanted to have a little update chat about things I like to wear. The brands I tend to gravitate towards – even if it is only for inspiration and fantasy shopping purposes, not for actual buying. Classic tailoring – Joseph, MaxMara, Me+Em, Stella McCartney. Statement dresses – Maje, Ganni. Everyday pieces – Hush, Me+Em, Equipment silk shirts, Paige or J Brand jeans…
This post was actually supposed to be about the dress and the jumpsuit that you can see in all of the pictures, but I got a bit waylaid once I started talking about my fashion wishlist. Both are from Me+Em, sent to wear for a series of events that I was hosting and attending and they made me feel so incredibly good about myself that I was moved to write my feelings down.
It ended up being a sort of thousand-word-long love poem about the weight of the dress’s fabric and the cut of the jumpsuit’s jib and – to be quite frank – it was embarrassing, so I expanded my subject matter to include fashion in general and here we are. My almost-forty sartorial wishlist post.
But by God the dress does have good weight. I let out an audible gasp of joy – like an orgasmic heroine in a romantic novel – as I popped closed the final popper and felt the full heft of the fabric; I could have been wearing five dresses! And there’s nothing like a label being generous with their fabric to make a dress feel a million dollars – I swept along the hotel corridor like a movie star on their way to the Oscars.
It was extra, as they say, but it was wearable. Which seems to be one of Me + Em’s calling cards, along with pin-sharp tailoring and sport-luxe detailing. I’ve since worn this dress with a leather jacket and white trainers, with heeled black boots and a black jumper and with a huge long winter coat thrown over the top. Delightful in every which way.
You can find the AM-PM Cargo Shirt Dress online here* – I have it in Navy in a size 12, because of my large-ish hooters, but it also comes in black which is equally amazing. At £299 it’s an investment piece, but it’s a solid one: there’s no trend-following here, really, it’s just a brilliant cut, an overly-generous glut of skirt fabric and a style that can be as smart or as casual as you want to make it.
The black jumpsuit is online here* and might just become your most-worn going-out-out outfit, if going out-out for you (as for me) no longer involves an Hervé Leger bandage dress and vertiginous heels. The AM-PM Cargo Jumpsuit* makes me feel as though I’m wearing a power suit, except that I’m not. I’m comfy and I don’t feel like a dick. I feel like an Anneka Rice-Pop dipped in Prada. And that is a good thing.
So there you have two classic examples of things that would be on my almost-forty sartorial wishlist – I could throw either of these items on without a second thought and both would look fine with trainers on that all-important walk to the tube station (London) or for the cross-countryside drive + schlep on the GWR train (Somerset), higher heels stowed in bag, ready to be changed into. (I have started using those disposable hotel shower caps to keep the soles from getting my bag dirty, which means that I have finally turned into my Mum.)
What’s on your sartorial wishlist? At what age? Let’s get a little database going in the comments section: wishlist, preferred labels, things that you love/hate – I’ve just realised that pockets got missed off my original list, so I’m adding pockets now!