Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006



Now that I am a mere red-talon’s flick away from forty, my thoughts turn now and again to fashion. (Serious readers avert your eyes here: extreme frivolity lies ahead.)

I am by no means a high-maintenance Frau: any manicure, pedicure and waxing activities take place in the safety and security of my own bathroom; I only require a bi-yearly visit to the hairdresser for highlights and a trim, and I make no investment purchases whatsoever. I don’t see the point of spending money on a handbag, boots or a coat that cost more than a good holiday. Now that there are three children to consider and one and one-twelfth of a salary, I can’t justify any designer purchases.

This aside, I do like to look good, taking my height (short) and my shape (hourglass with wobbly bits) into consideration. I really don’t want to let go and not care and slump around in tracky bots, but neither do I want to be challenging the local teenagers in wearing ten trends all at once. I want to refer to trends but not drip them. Whatever cocktail I do actually achieve, I need to credit any wisdom I have to two gurus who have taught me the tips and tricks that I apply on a daily basis.

The first is my friend the lovely G. When I lived in London she would phone me and say, “Get thee to a Gap this minute. There’s a black broderie anglaise skirt that is screaming your name.” I would obey, and guess what, four summers later the skirt is still in service. The other guru is a duo, England’s equally maligned and admired Trinny and Susannah. To me, they are goddesses of style, who are on earth to help us mortals look just a tiny little bit better, if only we listened to their advice.

So what follows here – in no particular order – is an amalgam of G and T and S and me:

  • Combine fun or junk jewellery with real. What happens when we gals turn 30 is that we think we must now be grown-ups and wear only our “good” jewellery. So we do the pearl necklace and pearl earring thing, or wear only gold. This is terribly aging and frumpish. By all means, wear a pearl necklace but combine it with some cheap as chips chandelier earrings. Or wear your diamond studs, but put them with strands of beads.
  • Tapering trousers are your hips’ worst enemy. Cigarette pants and skinny jeans are only for skinny bums. If you are the proud owner of a bottom, and indeed some hips, straight-legged trousers or slightly flared boot-cuts are the only way to go. Also, if you have thighs, ignore the high-waisted pants that are haunting us this autumn – they are just not flattering especially if they get pulled up too high and emphasise, ahem, the family jewels. (I was just too shy there to mention what all good fashion magazines this autumn are calling the camel’s foot.)
  • A denim jacket combined with a pair of jeans is known as the Shakin’ Stevens and is an absolute no-no. Shades of the aging rocker, what? Wear your denim jacket with cords or chinos or linen pants of any hue, but nevaire, my dears, with your denim trews. A denim skirt with a denim jacket is just as bad. Just add some rhinestones and start baah-ing quietly.
  • Black is good with white, with brown, with khaki, with pastels, bizarrely (although I was taught the opposite back home in Pietermaritzburg) with navy, but is shockingly, terribly bad with hot pink or bright yellow. The hot pink/black combo is is a fashion crime I committed often until I came across T and S and they mentioned Olivia Newton in Grease. While both are fine colours, the combination looks apparently – and sadly for me – cheap.
  • If you are short and can wear ’em, then heels are the way to lengthen legs. I keep trying with high heels but find them impossible. I have just bought a new pair in England (purple suede with stacked heels and five quid on the Asda sale, they look like something Dorothy Parker would wear) and I love them them so much I want to put them on a pedestal, but I just can’t walk in them. In my life, I need practical shoes that I can run in to prevent toddlers from wandering into a river, or abseiling down the stairs. However, at night, when I don’t have to walk very far (a party or a dinner, say) then out come the trusty heels.
  • Every girl’s BEST FRIEND – and I mean this sincerely – is the wrap dress. I own two, one black with white polka dots and one purple. They are the only two items I have ever tried on in a shop OVER MY OUTDOOR CLOTHES and said, Good God, I look fabulous. They are totally forgiving of any extra Speck that might be lingering around the middle, and over trousers, and with heels, they look a million dollars.
  • Trousers should err on the long side. Cut too short, they only make short legs look shorter.
  • Avoid too much matchy-matchiness. This is lesson I’ve had to learn only recently, so well-schooled was I in matching my shoes to my belt to my bag. I’ve just realised that too matchy is frumpy: clash a little, combine colours that you normally wouldn’t for an altogether less neat and tidy look. This season’s trendiest colour combination is grey and brown – not a marriage that would have gone down well in Pietermaritzburg, but a funky look in the autumnal northern hemisphere.

The thing about fashion is to have fun. I did mention frivolity, and that’s all it is really. I regret dressing so seriously in my twenties (too much bloody navy) and not having more fun when my body was still in its pre-baby heyday. I don’t want to look back when I’m in my sixties and think “I was so YOUNG! Why did I have to dress like an old lady/frump/rhinestone cowgirl.” That would be almost as sad as my wearing skinny jeans.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

14 thoughts on “Stylin’

  1. This was a great post! I love frivolity!

    I repeatedly commit the hot pink and black faux pas. I love the colour pink yet I have the suspicion it doesn’t love me and people are being polite and not telling me. I could go out dressed from head to foot in bright pink (n.b. I don’t). I think I must have a Barbara Cartland gene…

    I’m tall so I never wear heels – they make me tower over my husband! He says he doesn’t mind but maybe he’s just saying that? I live in flip-flops these days, it is probably against every sort of rule but is very handy with a baby and they make me feel shorter.

    I will heed your advice about the wrap dress, that might be just the thing this summer!

  2. How fun Charlotte! I love T&S — they’re hilarious and the looks on their faces when they’ve got on the wrong clothes really crack me up. I’d like to report that today, at work, I’m wearing black pants, and a sort of slinky coral cardigan. Very close to pink and black, but ever so slightly not. I’m wearing this fabulous watch that belonged to my husband’s great-grandmother, the kind with lots of little diamonds, but it’s on a funky black corded watchband that makes it not so much old ladyish as interestingly antique. This anyway, is my hope. In reality, I’m sure I look like a frumpy middle aged mom who’s lucky nothing she’s wearing has an obvious stain or rip in it! xo, BL

  3. I look like the aging hippy that I am. I have a uniform: Black cotton slacks with tie dyed t shirts. I wear it almost every day. This goes with bare feet most of the year until it gets too cold and then birkenstocks.

    When I want to dress up, I go for silk skirts w/ silk blouses. Or I have a couple of dresses. I eschew heels, being a massage therapist. I have a whole soap box lecture about why people should stay away from them, involving the strain and damage to hips, lower back, knees.

    My big extravagance is earrings. I have earrings that are artist produced (horridly expensive) from tourmaline, I have $1.00 cheapies from beads and stainless steel, and every sort in between. I have over 100 pair, which of course take me a long time to wear. There are probably 10 sets that are my absolute faves. I have no diamonds.

    Most of the time I look like I just came in from the garden, because I did. Fashion for me must be practical. And washable.

  4. This has been my mom’s mantra from day one: “Groom, groom, groom. If you’re well groomed Catherine, you can get away with (almost) anything.”

    One thing I’ve noticed? There’s nothing in this world less “fashionable” than someone who looks uncomfortable in or with what they’re wearing.

    (I love your accumulated wisdom, btw, and thoroughly enjoyed this post). 🙂

  5. Pingback: What I’ve Stopped Reading « BlogLily

  6. i don’t have any hot pink clothing, but i think pink and black sounds okay in theory. on the other hand, i think wearing red and pink in whatever shade looks ghastly!

  7. Helen, I’m sure you look just lovely in pink. I’m in pink recovery, actually. I’ve worn it for years and have recently woken up and thought, “I need other colours in my life”. Pink has been replaced by all shades of purple, and olive green. I look like heather.

    BlogLily, there’s no faux pas there: black is apparently great with ANY pastel shades, just not good with fuschia. I love the sound of your watch.

    HMHands, well we also have to be practical don’t we? Your earring collection sounds like a treasure trove!

    Cat, I agree, it’s best to wear what we are comfortable in. I go for comfortable trousers, not exactly with elasticised waists, but my days of skin-tight, organ-clenching jeans are gone. And I’m much happier for it.

    Sulz, funnily enough I love pink and red together, but only on my children!

  8. I loved this whole post Charlotte.

    It came to mind while I was grocery shopping today and came face-to-face with a woman wearing not only tracky pants but the matching jacket as well.

    I’ve found a way to wear pearls and not look like a frump — for our anniversary last year, my husband gave me freshwater pearls that had been strung on a length of leather, to be worn looped around my neck however I feel like looping them. A little bit traditional and a little bit funky — I love them (even if I don’t wear them often).

  9. I also love this whole post and see that I must check your fashion advice often.

    And oh, this is not frivolous but fun. I used to be such a somber feminist in my twenties and probably early 30s, and nothing would have disgusted me more than to hear women talking about their hair. Then I became friends with two brilliant writers and we started getting together to focus on our work. And somehow, we wound up spending a lot of time talking about our hair and our clothes.

    It seemed so liberating, probably because we had told ourself for years that serious women didn’t bother with such things.

  10. Kerryn, I LOVE the idea of pearls on leather. Sounds gorgeous.

    Yes, Kristin, I spent most of my twenties being sombre. Wearing too much navy. It was a revelation for me too to discover that having feminist principles AND enjoying my own appearance weren’t two mutually exclusive things.

  11. I love this post.
    I also love pink, purple, red, orange, maroon in all combinations (sorry!)
    It is funny, I too have recently come to that awful conclusion that there ain’t much that goes well with black, and there was I for years thinking it went with everything. What do I do with my black stuff now? .. I know, just wait ten years..
    And most of all, it’s fun to be enjoying fashion, those pearls really are not getting a look in at the mo.. Charl will you please tell me when I start to look muttonish? I am so very keen not to look the way some old folk appear to look, as if aged 30 their fashion radar was switched off.. aren’t i sad? ha ha!

  12. I also learned that blak and navy = fashion’s cardinal sin, so I’m thrilled it’s not! I also hear we can wear white pants after Labor Day…is this a rumor?

    I absolutely agree that the woman’s best friend is a wrap dress. Ah, wrap dress, how I love thee.

  13. charlotte: oh, children can get away wearing anything! except trying too hard to dress up like an adult.

  14. I really don’t like the Trinny & Suzannah thing, simply because I think style is something very personal and shouldn’t be cdictated. In fact, I don’t believe it can be dictated because, unlike fashion, style is something you either have or you don’t.

    Interesting post, though 🙂

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