Friday, 15 February 2013

I seek to address a personal style crisis

I think I'm having one of those mid-life style crises you read about in mature women's magazines, where the person is photographed bare faced in a shapeless beige cardigan looking apologetic and faintly depressed before being zinged up and zhuzhed (sp?) and made to wear a deep V neck in some outlandish shade of purple and some flattering boots and glittery highlighter.

Elements of style crisis:

1. Bottoms
I used to be a trousers person, then about six years ago I turned into a skirt/dress person. Then I mutated back into trousers person. Now, it seems, I do not know how to wear either. I currently alternate between (i) a pair of old and not very flattering jeans (ii) Isabel Marant sand coloured skinnies when I emphatically do not have the body shape (= thighs) for skinnies, but I bought them so now I need to maximise wear; and (iii) a grey tulip skirt from Comptoir des Cotonniers c2006.

2. Tops
They are basically all stripy and having looked at some photos recently, I do not actually think the stripe is doing my matronly bosom any favours. I am confounded by necklines too.

3. Mid-section 

Oh, this is the worst. Between top and bottom there is a sort of unprepossessing sagging, sausage like mid-section that looks very middle aged. This, of course, is what sack dresses are for. I should go back to the sack dress.

Today is fairly typical, though I am leaning forward and you cannot see the lumpy bosom (trust me, it is fully present):

(I make an exception for the man-repelling shoes. I rediscovered these in a cupboard after a good ten years of neglect and I love them)

I kind of know what I want to look like. I want to look like a Margaret Howell model crossed with an uncompromising Cork Street gallerist (though without too much assymetric Japanese nonsense). Instead I look like someone's mum who had an attack of amnesia on a trip to Jaeger then lived on the streets for a month. With an ill-fitting bra (is it ill fitting? I don't think it is, yet my bust looks all .. eh. Wrong).

4. Face
My make up isn't working. I can't even quite identify what it is, just that what used to look good doesn't any more. My skin is definitely drier, my foundation isn't quite right, I can't find a lipstick colour I like. I'm "trialling" a bright pink one for Facegoop and it's nice, but it throws the rest of my scabby face into sharp and unflattering relief.

5. Other
(i) I have developed a nervous habit of picking at dry skin and tiny blemishes on my face until they turn into giant weeping sores, which is absolutely delightful.
(ii) My wig is going quite badly bald and I am too impoverished to pay another £1000 for a new one. Given that the lead time for delivery is about 4-6 months, things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. I will need to investigate hats, or something.
(iii) My eyebrows are fading (and when they fade they fade to a garish orange) and need to be tattooed again, but again, money, time, opportunity to go to London.

How does one turn such a personal style crisis around?

1. By devoting oneself to good works and ceasing to be distracted by the shallow blandishments of vanity. This can easily be combined with eg. growing a beard or becoming an anchorite. Possible future perk: canonisation.

2. By pouring one's energies into having a nice looking house instead (hahahahahaha fat chance)

3. By returning, chastened, to the forgiving embrace of the Cos sack dress. And possibly inventing or acquiring some form of equivalent Cos head covering.

4. Picture in attic.

5. Other? I will take any suggestions. Be kind. I am feeble and in possession of a sausage-like mid-section.


cruella said...

Difficult. I cling to a fairly recent interview with (marvelleously good looking) Jane Birkin whose bestet fashion advice for mature women (it's all me, not you!) is to dress like a man "because you will look infinitely better than any man anyway". Brill!

And she lines her converses with lamb fleece soles so that she needs no socks even in winter. What a role model!

Laura said...

I think you look very gamine chic in that photo, actually. We are all hardest on ourselves. I'm turning 40 in approx. 15 minutes and cannot stop obsessing about my appearance even though I'm pretty sure that objectively I look not-half-bad.

If it were me I'd consider a bra fitting--the right bra will fix the matronly bosom and make inroads on lumpy-midsection issues. Then embrace whatever you best love to wear (Cos sack dress?) and mentally rebrand it as your "personal trademark," suggesting that it is a choice rather than a stroke of desperation. Rhetoric is everything!

J'adore Cruella's Jane Birkin advice but then, I love menswear anyway. . .

Anonymous said...

I too have an unfortunate tendency to wear nothing but (a) striped tops (alternating with jerseys in unflattering shades of grey) and (b) the same jeans over and over. Necklines a complete mystery. For you, actually the scoop neck cut off on the sides by your cardigan or whatever it is in the lipstick photo is very nice, I think. Is this replicable in a single garment?

Also, I feel that there is definitely an answer to your lipstick quandary, and that it might be more like an actual straight-up red except a bit sheer. Or maybe take a little time machine to 1995 and something in the Black Honey vein? No doubt the relics of mid-nineties now have some way of being performed that renders them, as they say, "more modern".

Anonymous said...

I think you look lovely in your crouching-on-toilet photo. But I do realise I'm not a cutting-edge style icon whose opinion counts for anything.

But re lipstick - I think the Black Honey clinique gloop suggestion is a good one. I think it's hard to carry off full-on matt lipstick from your mid-30s onwards. That was my experience, anyhow, as my skin and hair tones started changing. I look better now using a neutral pencil to line & fill in, then a sort of low-key gloss. Had forgotten about black honey but may have to try it or similar again.
Finally - bras... is this a practical fitting issue, or a recurring theme that may be more in the mind, I wonder? Like, I used to have a thing about my enormous head. Once eleventy-million people had looked at me blankly or in surprise when I mentioned it, I realised no-one noticed it but me.
I ask this as I've been reading some of your archive posts recently* so I can tell you the whole ill-fitting bra riff was definitely happening this time three years ago...
*revealed at risk of casting self in role of Scottish skinflint who cannot bear to pay to download reading material onto Kindle - but honestly, it's because I've only recently started reading your blog, I am enjoying it, and the friend who recommended it suggested catching up on some of the 'back story' might be a good idea...

mountainear said...

Personally I think you look wonderful. And thighs? What thighs?

Have you looked at

Helen Brocklebank said...

It's winter, it's impossible to feel good about one's style in February... This is why they put fashion week in February, to distract us from our despair with shiny wintry things that we hope will resolve all these problems *next* winter

Sarah said...

I'm with Helen. It's February, who knows WTF they are in Feb? Not anyone normal.

Also, you have been in Paris, which is enough to derail any non-French person's sense of themselves as a stylish human being. Your sack dress looks great, it will come in when you can remember who you are :-)

I can't thnk of any makeup advice, other than exactly what you think looks hideous now will probably look fine come mid-March.

You could probably do with clothes and make-up advice because, frankly, who of us couldn't, but you are lovely and entertaining and have no idea how wonderful you are.

J. said...

NARS Dolce Vita lipstick is universally flattering, though not as bold as your current pink. Have you tried cleaning your skin with oil, or those ROC exfoliating pads?

I am in a style rut myself, so I have no good advice to offer in that department.

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

Firstly, you look tres chic. Really and truly. Secondly, I shall send you a photo of me and you will know what Thighs really are. I HATE the constrictions they place on me. Thirdly, I love Jane Birkin's advice via cruella and that's the way I'm veering at age 43 (but I was thinking more Kathrine Hepburn). and finally, fourthly (fourth?), I get it, it's what we do from time to time, reassess and all that, but from the outside you really do look pretty fab.

MargotLeadbetter said...

Do you need some tough love? I will give you some anyway.

You look great on those pics - small + slim, gamine, late 80s/early 90s indie. It is a 'look', and also 'to die for'. So stop moaning on about it (is this false modesty, or do you just post the least bad photos? You should see how I look right now).

Also the jeans are great. I follow a fashion blogger who has been seeking the 'ultimate boyfriend jean' for weeks and would love yours. And, what thighs?

Your face looks fine on the pics, but you know the answer there anyway (stop attacking yourself). I like the lipstick.

Going by the photos, the main problem is the wig - it is a bit unruly. Could you have it cut/restyled to tame it and disguise the bald bits, or does it just need a good blowdry? (NB I know absolutely nothing about this sort of thing). That might keep you going for a while intil you can afford a new one.

This was not very tough actually, so I will finish by saying get over yourself already.

Waffle said...

Thank you all for your advice and non advice you are very kind and gentle.

Cruella/Michelloui - Do you think one can do mannish with a bust? Won't I look like a female bouncer? Maybe that's ok, but it's not gamine and Birkinesque really, is it?

Braithanlithe - I think you are right, I have intrusive bust size thoughts, often. I am not surprised they recur here. Also heehehehe 'crouching on toilet photo'. Every dating profile should have one.

J - I am quite literally going to go out and try and procure me this Nars lipstick tomorrow. New lipstick makes everything ok.

Mountainear - Yes! I love her. She is wonderful. Maybe she will rock up here and give me some advice? That would be amazing.

Margot - HA, yes, of COURSE they are the least bad ones. Maybe I should post the photograph I once took for my friend of the bizarrely increased size of my post-partum nostrils.

And just to say, the thighs in themselves are not so bad, I am not specially distressed by them, I do not have thigh dysmorphia it's just the size mismatch between upper and lower leg is really exaggerated, so skinny jeans look .. odd. Hasselhof-esque. Hasselhof = rarely a good look on a woman.

K said...

I agree with J - NARS Dolce Vita lipstick is excellent. Also, you look beautiful and are rocking the gamine style.

That's Not My Age said...

I think you look fine, though it's hard to see the saggy middle bit/chestal area in that photo. My advice is buy a decent tailored jacket and wear it with jeans a la Jane Birkin.

Margaret said...

You always look so pretty in these alleged "I am a hag" photos. My only beauty suggestion is the same one I have given you before: Buy a fucking full-length mirror and stop teetering on the toilet lid! You're going to kill yourself. Did you know that 98% of household accidents happen in the bathroom? Fact.

I'm so sorry about your balding wig--that's just karmically unfair. Can your hair stylist do anything with it?

Alison Cross said...

I think you look luffly, but rest assured you are not alone with your clothing confusions. I too KNOW what I'd like to look like, but that image is totally at odds with living in a drafty Victorian house. So, inside my head I'm all chic with glossy hair, a waistband that lies FLAT, possessor of a pair of pert bosoms (not the pair currently tucked into my knicker elastic) and a quality wardrobe that I actually look forward to wearing.

The reality is that I wear skinny jeans, thermal leggings, a thermal vest, a long-sleeved top and a fleece. I look like an ewok's granny.

Lippy - I found a lovely coral-toned Chanel lippy. Name escapes me, but I feel that my face brightens up a bit when wearing it. Red makes me look like somene who might shag Wayne Rooney for a packet of fags.

Pat (in Belgium) said...

Dear Waffle,
I think you look very French gamine, toilet perch notwithstanding! (Hope that the fact that this is coming from someone who only wears jeans regardless of event or function won't discredit observation!)

And I share with you a fridge magnet found last visit to America (where even I feel almost slender!):"I wish I was as thin as I was when I thought I was fat."
(And I have the photos to prove it!)

Anonymous said...

HA yes, you're so right, Waffle - obligatory crouched on toilet photo is the way forward for dating profiles. Years ago, a friend persuaded me to try online dating and I made the mistake of using a recent holiday pic in which I looked happy, relaxed, natural & attractive. I was so swamped by guys who clearly hadn't read one word of my profile that after a fortnight I freaked out and closed my account. If I ever have to do it again (heaven forfend) I will employ a toilet crouching photo. I have lots of 'man repelling' shoes and fierce glasses almost identical to yours. But frankly the rest of your outfit is way too alluring. I shall wear my grey cagoule and a pair of bobbly joggers. That'll sort the sheep from the goats.

Anonymous said...

I agree with other comments - you look chic and gamine to me!
But I do commiserate with you over what to do with a large bust (my gift/cross to bear too).

V necks generally work for an ample bosom, but will be too cold in winter, so a cardigan or jacket over whatever's underneath creates that shape for you. I found that an ancient suit jacket inherited from my grandma's second husband has been surprisingly successful for me - comfortable, flattering, sort of casual-smart. It is navy blue wool in an extremely subtle self-stripe weave, 2 buttoned, and occasionaly bristly as a length of horsehair (used for padding) emerges from the lapel!

By the way, I love the manly sized watch you're rocking in that toilet photo!
Heather (NZ)

J. said...

To follow up on my previous comment: I've been getting drier skin too as I approach 40 (GAH), and I've found good product recommendations in a book with a terrible title: How to Look Expensive ( (btw the hair recs in the book are vague and generally crap, but those wouldn't apply to you, anyway.) The recs for skin care and makeup products (especially drugstore items) have all been winners, so far. Stuff recommended from this book, plus cleaning my skin with oil as described in this article ( has worked. I no longer appear like I've got some sort of unfortunate face dandruff brewing that I'm attempting to cover up with nude-colored Spackle.

Dara said...

Holy cats, woman! You are gorgeous. Very chic. Love the shoes.

I don't love the pink undertone, maybe?

Otherwise, you really look adorable---wait, were you going for "adorable"?

Anyway-I wish I could pull off looking adorable!

Helen said...

Having seen both these photos and met you IRL, I agree you are tres chic and gamine and other such positive French style concepts!

When the wonder that is M&S Per Una comes to Brussels, you should find plenty of deep V neck jumpers in a variety of purples, with fetching sequins to go with the glittery highlighter. There. You're welcome.

(I am attempting to revamp my wardrobe: would like to look like Joan from Mad Men, mostly look like a member of the WI.)

Xtreme English said...

gevalt! I agree with all the commenters who say you look tres chic/gamine/lovely/French, etc.

What you need to do is take a trip to the middle of the USA and just eat salads until you've gained 40 or 50 pounds. (not possible? hah. just try it. we don't all eat french fries and grilled cheese over here.) When you're ACTUALLY really lumpy, then you can take "before/after" photos and see just how adorable you are now.

WrathofDawn said...

Matronly bosom? MATRONLY BOSOM??? Oh, my darling woman. You do NOT have a matronly bosom. I have a matronly bosom and it does not look like yours.


Victoria said...

You look amazing, putting most of us to shame. I love the Breton tee, vintage jeans, old leather boots look, and babe you carry it off to a tee!, Make up good too, but I do share the same dilema. I used to wear such and such, it bloody worked and I looked all natural and glowing and healthy, then I aged a decade and it makes me look clown like. I too am trying to figure out how, why, when and where the make up situation got so bad. I have tried cheap shite, expensive stuff - all of it is wrong, is it me?, is it my old age skin? christ I'm not 40 yet (but soon), oh god, I think it is the elasticity, or stress of parenting 3 boys, or the wine and rolls ups but god, my skin does NOT hold make up like it used to. I look shite. You should take a leaf from my book, when feeling shite, go to Liberty, Oh yes, Regent Street, and buy a Frederic Malle perfume. They wrap it up so well and you leave feeling blessed, that did it for me!!

HotShots said...

I think one of the problems is living in Brussels. I'm still amazed that this scruffy city is populated by so many stylish and beautiful people. Correction – stylish and beautiful women. Having a bad hair/face/clothes day is only made worse when you're confronted by Gisele Bundchen in the metro on your way to work. I advise temporary relocation to any industrial town in northern England. You will return to Brussels feeling suitably slim, stylish and beautiful. Guaranteed. Although be careful not to return with a tattoo and a new fleece.

Ro said...

I'm doing the lip-picking thing too, quite badly lately. I look as though I've got highly localised face-leprosy.

No fashion suggestions alas - that would be like the blind leading the sighted, frankly.

Alison Cole said...

Why do you have 2 toilet brushes?

You should stop being so negative about yourself. Seriously, you don't need to be AT ALL!!! This must stop immediately. You look lovely. Your only problem is not believing it.
Just get fitted for a bra, stop wearing stripes and embrace your shape and those awesome boots!

HelenSparkles said...

I think you look exaclty like a Margaret Howell model crossed with an uncompromising Cork Street gallerist (though without too much assymetric Japanese nonsense).

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