Quick Style Fixes for Busy Mums

It's not vanity. It's self-respect.

Archive for the category “Charity Shop Finds”

Why Easter totally kicks Christmas’ butt. And pretty clothes.

Easter is my new favourite Holiday. I can’t believe it’s taken me 35 years to fully appreciate it.

It’s got all the good stuff – chocolates, rabbits, daffodils, two days off. And none of the bad stuff, like hyperventilating in Debenhams on Christmas Eve.

It’s easy to celebrate with a 2 year old, and it doesn’t have to  be expensive. Here are some things we’ve been up to:



Man, these are fine. They take minutes to make, and even very young children will love stirring and spooning the mixture into paper cases. P. concentrated very hard on patting the cornflakes tightly into them, which made me feel like an AMAZING PARENT as I was encouraging her MANUAL DEXTERITY & CONCENTRATION. We had so many left over we gave a massive box to her childminder this morning. *pats self on head*

The health benefits are also manifold, because dark chocolate, as everyone knows, is good for everything, and cornflakes are enriched with Vitamin B, which is good for flagging energy. Oh I’m sorry – I’ve finished the lot. Total cost: about £4.00 Time: An hour – making and scoffing


Like these decorative eggs, £1.00 for both. I know – criminal.


They sit, somewhat reluctantly, next to P.’s mad home-made egg.


And this flowery table-cloth for £2.75:


Which ordinarily B. would never allow in the house. Luckily he is as desperate for sunshine and flowers as the rest of us, so I’ve exploited his temporary weakness and we now even have breakfast on it. It feels like eating in a meadow:


Total cost of charity shop bargains: under a £5.


I have thought about planting sweet-peas for years, but somehow never got round to it. Then, thanks to issue 7 of The Simple Things, which has SIX PAGES OF TANTALISING SWEETPEAS – and becoming a mother, and ‘between jobs’ – I just went right on and did it.

I now have four little teepees in the back garden:


The kitchen windowsill has become a temporary incubation site:


And in the summer, my house is going to be full of jam jars of the stuff. (Photo: The Simple Things.)


Total cost: £15 – £20 to enjoy all summer.

Finally – if you’re in Bristol this weekend, you should go to the Chocolate Festival. It takes place over Saturday and Sunday, ENTRY IS FREE and there will be chocolate smeared over EVERYTHING. You can see pictures from previous events here.

If it was remotely warm, I would be wearing this Collins Avenue dress, £39.95, which would look fab with boots and tights.

joe brown

But as it is, I’m lusting after my favourite ‘mad 80s’ jumper from Therapy which I have already tried on and it looked great. Reduced to £17.50, I’m desperately trying to think of excuses to get it. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a job in children’s telly?


As well as this stunning Ted Baker coat, which I spotted in House of Fraser. Gorgeous, no?



A quick look online reveals it’s ‘only’ £229, so I may just admire from afar with a pained expression.

I just love it. One more glance? Go on then.

ted baker



My resolutions and layering.

We’re half-way through January. The last two weeks have given me enough time to really crystallise and define what I want to achieve this year.

So, in no particular order, here are my New Years Resolutions.


1. I will find another hairstyle to add to my repertoire of ‘up’ and ‘down’.

2. I will perfect a tumble-turn.

3. Erm.

4. Oh yes – bread. I will make bread.

5. Speaking of food – I will eat more fish.

6. I will try not to buy any new clothes. So far I’ve been successful but I can feel my resolve weakening.

7. I will find a few more musicals to add to my collection.

8. I will get a fabulous job and become a brilliant copywriter.

9. I will wean myself off cheap hair dye kits.

In other news….

I have started wearing a skirt OVER a long shirt-dress. The checked shirt below I normally wear over leggings, which makes me look A Bit Lumberjack. In a bid to make the shirt more versatile I put a skirt over it instead. I am wearing the blood-red heels because I’d just made a cake and fancied wearing heels to wear it, having grown a bit sick of wearing thermals and walking gear INSIDE the house during the Big Freeze. But this look would hopefully also work with boots.

20130120_162620 (2)

SHIRT: Charity Shop

SKIRT, TIGHTS, AND HEELS: M&S (Woman of habit)

If you have any long shirts and short skirts you don’t normally wear together, try mixing them up. Even better, post me a picture.

If you like this idea, you can also try wearing a skirt over a dress, like the beautiful Diane Kruger. I think it’s a brilliant idea that makes your wardrobe work a bit harder to give you some new outfits for free.


I love this modern take on layering and will be trying it out a bit more over the next few months.

Cheerio, Nick




Mirror, Mirror….

Happy New Year!

The end of 2012 brought a whopping revelation. Let me explain…

I found a full-length mirror in B&Q with magic properties. It was one of those that makes you look thinner than you actually are.

“Let’s buy it,” I said at once. Can there be a better ego boost than a mirror that lies?

I spent a wonderful hour with a glass of wine and all the clothes I’d given up on, trying them on in front of the Magic Mirror.

The results stunned me. All those clothes I’d written off – the jeans I thought I couldn’t pull off, drab jumpers, dresses I’d got bored of – they were all transformed by this mirror. (And, quite possibly, my wine.)

Suddenly I felt ashamed.

All year, I’d felt compelled to keep buying clothes, convinced that no matter how much I bought, my wardrobe was always incomplete. Now I saw how wrong I was.

I have loads of lovely, more than adequate, really quite fabulous clothes. And most of the time, I completely ignore them, failing to see their potential.

No more.

Because I’m going to focus on what I have, not what I want to have. I’d like to not buy ANY CLOTHES IN 2013.

Not even from charity shops.

Not even on sale.

Not even – AAAARGH – if it’s from Marks and Spencers and I can’t believe the price.

No shoes, no coats. No dresses, no bargains. ( I am still allowed make-up, the odd bit of jewellery, and maybe a hat.)

You may shake your head. You may think: “The girl’s gone mad.”

But I believe this will make me stronger. Here’s why:-

Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes you have to appreciate the clothes you really have. And sometimes, you just run out of money (and space.)

Whoever said “Necessity is the mother of invention” was right. When you impose a limit, you have to use your imagination.

This might make me evolve my style. It might help me find loads of new looks for old clothes. I might finally learn how to dye things.

I will definitely save money. And now I’m meant to be an adult, I’ve heard that’s a good thing.

I may – and I am prepared for this – just live in the same jeans and t-shirt all year, but with the help of my Magic Mirror,  that will be OK.

So, in a melancholy adieu to the beauty of consumption, here is my final sartorial swansong for December 2012. These four beauties will be the last thing I buy for 12 months. I think they’re worth celebrating for that very reason.

Cream Brogues. These were £4 in a charity shop. I love them. B. hates them. I can’t think why.

Cream brogues

Blood-red heels. These are the shoes I’ve been searching for my whole life. I found them in M&S, reduced in the sale to £25. I can’t talk any more about M&S as I might cry. They look much vampier on.

Blood red heels

Checked skirt This is a Jigsaw skirt and cost £5 from the Best Boutique in Bristol. Yes, £5. Looks fab with the heels.

Jigsaw skirt

Monsoon lace dress This was a birthday present from B. It also came from The Best Boutique In Bristol and cost £33. The straps are designed to be worn off the shoulder and it has great internal boning and it looks like a dream, doesn’t it?

Monsoon dress

Finally – here was my first outfit of the year. Photo taken in the Magic Mirror, as you can see.

(Unfortunately it doesn’t allow good self-portraits – will stick to husband from now on!)

This was for a pub lunch with friends on New Years Day. Ignore the bloated, hung-over face please. Focus on the shoes.

New years day outfit

Shirt dress – Not sure what label it is, another charity shop find last year. Great for hiding a belly from Christmas. I love khaki but I’m not sure it loves me. But this was the first time I’d worn the shirt out, in my new spirit of adventure.

Jeans: Levis Curve. Shoes: M&S footglove.

Have you made any style New Year resolutions? Have you ever imposed a shopping embargo on yourself? Let us know!

DKNY and me

Ah, seminal moments in fashion. I remember when I saw Yazz on Top of the Pops, back in 1988.

Bomber jackets are cool, I thought. I started wearing dad’s old suit blazers with the sleeves rolled up, in a misguided tribute to Yazz’s boxy jacket look.  It didn’t look so good on a ten-year-old in the Home Counties but I had the chutzpah of youth.

Then there was Kylie’s odd open-topped hat on the cover of her first album.

These Antipodeans are fashion-forward! Was my excited response. I found a plastic witches hat in the dressing up box, cut off the pointy bit, and voila – I had a centre-less hat, through which I pulled out my pony-tail. I worked this look at my friends’ parties and it went down a storm. Although they did just think I’d come as a witch.

In the same spirit, I remember where I was when I saw the Spring/Summer 2010 ad campaign for DKNY. Oh my.

This ad was everything I loved about clothes. It told me what my dream personal style was before I even knew.  Genius slouchy yet sharp tailoring, luxe sparkly fabrics in an informal cut, strong florals, androgyny and femininity, rules being broken, modern sleek hair, attitude and drama, nothing too matchy-matchy yet everything in sync. It was like a nod to the future with a bow to the past.

I love the woman on the far-left, in her incredible suit with just a hint of bright abstract colour underneath. Her hands in pockets! Her glasses! That fab jacket! At the time, my favourite outfit was the one on the third right; the woman in floral trousers (with pockets, natch) and a stripy sparkly boxy top. 

Let’s just have another little look:

Mmm, mm.

So, you want to know, what did I know with this inspiration coursing through my veins?  Pregnancy, moving house, nursing a newborn and being two stone heavier than normal happened.  But somehow, that flash of colour, contrast, and attitude filtered through.

And so this the weekend, when I spotted a floral skirt in the amazing second-hand boutique Luminous and Vogue in Berkhamsted’s Lower Kings Road, I knew what I wanted to team it with.


I didn’t know where this knowledge had come from until later….suddenly I knew that this was Donna Karan’s style, filtered through two years and a huge ocean. It’s obviously vastly different to high-end fashion, yet you can see the influence. I learnt stripes and florals can work and I put my own (more practical, more budget) spin on it.

So what I’m saying, ladies, is read, absorb, and flick through fashion magazines as much as you like.  Your style, and your confidence in your style, will evolve without you even thinking about it. And don’t worry about trying trends two years late;  it’s better to be late to the party than never get there at all.

Stripy top: Charity Shop, Skirt: H&M, Luminous and Vogue, Flip-flops: Peacocks

(Image sources: Yazz – BBC, Kylie – Rateyourmusic.com, Catwalk model – this blog)

The challenge of the yellow shorts solved!

As Face, or Fingers, or the other one in the A-team used to say – I love it when someone tells me what to wear. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

I didn’t use to, certainly not when I was 14 and I wanted to go out in my brother’s old boxers which I had crudely stitched together at the back to them make tighter. I wore it with my Levis 501 t-shirt and tried to sneak out of the front door. Surprisingly, my mother was having none of it. Major row erupted.

But now, when people make sartorial advice, I take it. And so, Sara, I took your advice of teaming the tricky-but-promising yellow shorts with a fitted shirt.

Here is the result:-

This was taken at the end of the hottest day of the year so far, so everything looks a bit rumpled. I could also do with a tan. But apart from that, it’s a bit of a revelation to me; high-waisted shorts + fitted shirt = whole new look. This could also work with brogues or nude wedges instead of flip-flops.

I hope that this will inspire some of you to walk into a charity shop and try on something that you wouldn’t normally think of wearing. It might make you see yourself or your body in a new light, revive something in your closet that you haven’t worn for a long time, or make you feel like a 1950s starlet.

I live in hope.

PS – Thank you, Sara, whoever you are. You can come again.


Why I love charity shops and the challenge of the yellow shorts.

One morning a week, P. goes to a lovely childminder, while I work/write/cook/hang loose. It’s a sacred three hours where I get to recharge and she gets to play with a little girl her age and paint. It does us both the world of good.

This week, I spent a gorgeous half-hour drinking coffee and reading a magazine in my local cafe, before having a browse in a charity shop. I love charity shops, musty and dusty or slick and boutiquey, and they have really come into their own once P. was born.  For those who remain unconvinced, here’s a list about why they’re good:-

1. They are full of kindly old women and gentlemen who love babies.

2. If you’re nice to them, they’ll coo and entertain your baby so you can try on clothes.

3. They don’t play god-awful chart music to make your eyes bleed. Instead you can listen to the peaceful chatter of the staff in the back saying: ‘Some tea, Derek?’

4. You can buy lots and lots of lovely clothes for not very much money at all. So even if you make a mistake, it won’t be expensive.

5. You can normally fit in a quick visit on your way to buy nappies.

6. This is one shopping expedition you don’t need to keep a secret from your husband/boyfriend. Not that I do this, obviously. (cough)

7. You’re putting money into worthwhile causes. Amazing!

Yesterday I spotted a pair of high-waisted vintage yellow shorts. When I say vintage I mean the label says: Style Incorporated which to me sounds ancient.

First of all I tried them on with a stripy t-shirt, also in the shop:

That just made me look like a rectangle. So then I tried them on with a fitted little Oasis jumper. This looked better:

But it was some sort of wool mix and was too hot. Pretty though; I liked the studs.

Despite not knowing exactly what these shorts would go with, I had developed a bit of a crush on them. They made me feel a bit 1950s, a bit American, a bit like I could be drinking cocktails before tennis. I love feeling like that, so I bought them. They were £3.50!

I still haven’t quite solved the challenge of how to wear them. This morning I tried a black scoop neck top with a cat necklace from Claire’s Acessories.

Again, not quite right. If you need to do a jaunty pose to make clothes look good, then they’re not right.

Then I tried them on with a sheer polka-dot blouse, bought from my favourite second-hand boutique, Rag Trade (not a charity shop, actually a boutique, and worth a visit, Bristolians.)

But I still don’t think this works, although it’s quite nice.

Now I’m beginning to think that a fitted top, like this Sun Top from Top Shop (£24), might be the answer, although I’d definitely need to have had a Kit-Kat free week, and this I cannot guarantee. It’s lush, but is it too teenage? Would I look like one of those rhubarb sweets, the pink and yellow ones? I don’t know anything any more.

Where am I going wrong? What would you wear with the shorts? I’m beginning to think that Oasis jumper was the best option; maybe I need a thinner version of that. I still think that they will come good.

These sunny yellow shorts have been a godsend today though – P. is refusing to eat in this weather and will only eat toast. I feel like I’ve spent all morning cooking only for her to turn up her nose. Thankfully, these yellow shorts allow no space for moods, so I just glide through the tension like a sunny yellow serene swan.

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