Style, or rather, my recent lack of style, has been at the forefront of my mind a lot lately.
A year spent indoors, socialising only with my boyfriend, his sister (with whom we were a support bubble), and virtually over Zoom, has meant the attention I pay to what I wear each day has dwindled exponentially. Loungewear has naturally formed a big part of my day-to-day uniform but, in the early months of this year, remaining in my pyjamas from dawn to dusk pretty much became the norm. So, as life begins to open back up outside the four walls of our cosy home sanctuary, the notion of ‘personal style’ feels very alien to me.
Even before lockdown last March I was wavering a lot on what my true style identity was. When I moved out of my flat in Salford and in with Luis, I had a huge clear-out of my closet and realised that at least 60% of what I owned I never wore anymore. Many pieces were left over from a life spent in London, dressing up daily for work, client meetings and evening events. Things I no longer felt comfortable in, let alone fit in, which were ultimately all packaged up and donated before I moved. Other items were so well-worn they had begun to fall apart at the seams, the way high street purchases often do when they have been laundered weekly for many years. Having entered lockdown with a limited wardrobe already, as we begin to emerge I’ve found myself feeling at a general loss for what to wear for any activity more adventurous than a click-and-collect run to Tesco, or afternoon amble around the park.
It does however feel like a good time to take properly stock and build a new capsule collection of quality basics from the ground up. I need everything from jeans, t-shirts and jumpers to daytime dresses and lightweight jackets. To be honest, even my lingerie drawer could do with an overhaul! It’s a task that is both incredibly exciting to embark upon, and also incredibly terrifying. Building anew brings up a whole range of considerations, from what size even am I now? (lockdown has definitely taken its toll!) and which styles suit my body shape, to which brands are considered to be genuinely sustainable nowadays, and how much does shopping ethically actually cost?
I don’t have a huge budget to devote to shopping for fashion, so working out how to best weave all of these considerations together, and build a basic wardrobe of mix-and-match pieces for the summer, is certainly an intriguing conundrum. When I first cleared out my closet a year ago I also stripped right back on any cheap, tarnished and trend-led jewellery pieces and old, flaky cosmetic products I had had languishing around too. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, starting there felt like a natural place for me when it came to thinking about style, as adornment is something that can be totally led by your natural style inclinations, as opposed to clothing styles which generally need to be sympathic to the curvature of your body. To put that thinking into practical terms, I always aspire to dress like a chic and effortless Parisian woman, but my ample bosom coupled with my short body length (my height is all in my legs), weight around my midriff and significant lack of hips, mean many of the items I’d like to wear simply hang like a sack or pull in all the wrong places. Marrying the sense of personal style you have in your head with the realities of your actual body can be a real pain!
When it comes to jewellery design though, I definitely know what I like and tend to gravitate towards a small selection of everyday pieces that I can wear with confidence with pretty much any outfit. A considered curation of minimal, elegant pieces toughened up with chunkier, more masculine designs. Last summer I invested in my first pieces from South Manchester brand Ara the Altar; a pair of Phase Fine frosted Full Moon earrings in 9ct recycled yellow gold. Since I have tiiiny earlobes I spoke with Lauren before I placed my order to see if she could make them even smaller than the usual 9mm (since every piece is handmade to order) and happily she was able to offer me an 8mm version. I’ve always loved the look of teeny tiny hoop earrings and had never before found any that truly worked for me but, just as Lauren hopes for these pieces, I popped them in the day they arrived and haven’t taken them out since! (FYI: With each sale of the a Phase Fine Earrings between 1-30 June 2021, 10% of the sales will be donated to Mosaik Education. Mosaik helps refugee students to reach university through guidance programmes and language classes. Currently only 3% of refugees are able to attend university, compared to a global average enrolment rate of 37%.)
To complement the fine and delicate nature of these earrings, earlier this year I treated myself to another piece of adornment from the Ara collection that I’d had my eye on for many months, the Fine Molten Ring, again in recycled 9ct yellow gold with a dusted finish. It’s an achingly simple yet sophisticated band, and the irregular handcrafted nature of the design brings me endless pleasure every time I look down at it. It is however, a very elegant design on my long middle finger and worn alone, felt a little too refined for my style. I like to have an assortment of rings on each hand – in previous times checking I had put all my rings on my hand before stepping out the front door was an almost unconscious habit of mine as I left the house – so I knew I wanted to add at least one more everyday ring onto my right hand.
Enter Daisy Jewellery, who happily got in touch with me at just the right time! I’ve had pieces from the brand before, so know that their yellow gold pieces (which suit my complexion the most) wear well over the years and that they have a variety of ring designs in chic, timeless styles, so I was more than happy to collaborate with them again. The 18ct gold plated Sunburst Signet Ring* (part of the Estée Lalonde collection) immediately caught my eye as I’ve always hankered after a little signet for my pinky finger but not found a design as delicate – or available in such a small ring size – before. I opted for the XS band, which equates to a UK size J (15.4mm diameter), and it fits my pinky perfectly. It slips on and off very easily in low temperatures (but stays on), and when the weather is warmer fits snugly without feeling like it’s going to get stuck going over a knuckle. I love how it looks alongside the very slim profile of the Molten ring on my middle finger, creating an intriguing interplay of styles that I think will work well together for many years to come.
Alongside the Sunburst signet ring, I was also able to choose another piece from the Daisy collection and opted for the 18ct gold plated Venus necklace*, on a chain adjustable to 18″, 19″ and 20″ lengths. I already have a small everyday gold chain that I wear with most daily outfits, so wanted to have a chunkier design that would serve more as a statement piece without being too overpowering. It’s a necklace that hangs at a really great height when wearing knitted jumpers or shirts slightly unbuttoned, since it falls just above my breasts and doesn’t dangle too precariously forward when I’m eating dinner (if you know, you know!). As with all my jewellery pieces I’ve kept the yellow gold palette going so that it can mix and match with a variety of options, and it falls at a great length to wear with my existing daily chain. Paired with the ring it feels like both of these Daisy pieces will be versatile and longlasting additions to my capsule wardrobe and work beautifully with the type of contemporary, minimalist tailoring I aspire to add to my closet going forward.
New rings simply cry out for perfectly manicured nails, don’t you think? Historically I have been terrible at keeping my nails neat and perfectly painted but I’m hoping to turn over a new leaf and keep my nails regularly refreshed going forward. A few years ago I fell for the sleek packaging of J. Hannah nail polishes at the Cos store in Coal Drops Yard (Kings Cross) and ever since then I’d been planning to add to that initial purchase of the red rock hued Ghost Ranch.
A few weeks ago I decided to treat myself to a couple of new shades from the brand, which are available in the UK via super cool online store La Gent. The soft desert inspired shade of Dune felt like a great everyday staple for my skin tone, while the pale leafy green of Eames called to me as a shade that would be good for a statement look on my hands, and quirky addition to my summertime toes. Happily I was just as enamoured with the shades when they arrived in the post as I was on my computer screen!
The last non-clothing addition to my new (or rather, soon to be created) capsule wardrobe is probably one of the most classic; scent. Throughout lockdown I had pretty much worked my way through my remaining perfume stash and was feeling a little aimless when it came to discovering a new signature scent. I mean, trying to pick a perfume based off of an online description is pretty darn impossible, right? It’s one of the first things I had been planning to do when the retail stores first reopened in early April but, in the end, Pulse of Perfumery came to my rescure earlier than that. In the run-up to Valentine’s Day earlier this year, the Knutsford-based fragrance store got in touch wanting to send me a bottle of one of Laboratorio Olfattivo’s signature scents, Rosamunda*.
At this point I had been craving a change when it came to my daily scent so, seduced by the description of the scent as “provocative and carnal like the roses on the hair of the feminine characters of Gabriel Garçia Marquez but, at the same time, sumptuous, wrapped in a neoclassical brightness,” felt I had to give it a go. Three months later, and it is still the scent I reach for on an almost daily basis. It’s far muskier than I thought it might be, with a rich base of oud, cedar and amber, with delicate top notes of green rose leaf, patchouli and saffron. It’s a scent that definitely transports, and frequently reminds me of our trip to Marrakech just prior to lockdown last year, which is always a happy memory to return to!
So, from these stylish adornments I now need to begin assembling my new capsule collection. As much as I want to buy from ethical, sustainable brands I know that I will need to weave in a few high street purchases with these types of investment pieces, to build as considerately but as practically as I can. In the past I’ve been known to fall prey to fashion trends and end up with pieces I only wear a handful of times but I think that now I’m in my late thirties I’m far more able to identify what will work long-term for me and what won’t. I’ve had pieces from COS, Arket, Zara and H&M in my wardrobe that have been staple pieces for many years and, for me, shopping sustainably means making the most out of the pieces you are able to afford at any given moment, taking the best possible care of them and at the end of their time with you, either donating or recycling depending upon their condition.
I’m under no illusion that pieces created for most high street brands are done so under good ethical or environmental standards, and the ardent discussion and calls for action around greenwashing is incredibly important. Brands that I’ve come across – both recently and in the past few years – and aspire to shop with more frequently include Beaumont Organic, Mother of Pearl, Riley Studio and Know the Origin, but I do also know that realistically I will need to weave in more affordable everyday items too, or my wardrobe won’t have much flexibility, at least to begin with. Of course, the question of afforability poses the question, affordable to whom?, and as with every important discussion of our times there are many different facets to most sides of the debate. Actively seeking to make changes and doing everything you can feels, to me at least, to be a great place to start. It’s nigh on impossible to snap your fingers and become completely sustainable overnight, but being mindful of your shopping habits and making as informed decisions as possible will surely help to move us all in the right direction.
I’d love to know if you have any favourite sustainable, ethical and UK-based brands that you love to shop with just now! I’m always on the lookout for new inspiration. You can see some of my current style musings (from a range of brands, not all ethical/sustainable) on my Pinterest board, linked below.
Nb. any PR products mentioned in this post are clearly marked with an asterisk for transparency.