As the summer is coming to an end I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic. Every year, I like to look at my photos, taken during summer holidays, and remind myself how much I enjoyed discovering new places and re-visiting the places I love.
Here are some of my favourite shots from trips to the Basque Country in Northern Spain, Provence in South of France and Devon in England. Travelling this summer has been a real treat for all the senses: beautiful old and modern architecture, scenic views of the countryside, sunsets on the beach, smell of the sea and fragrant flowers of Provence and taste of incredibly delicious and artfully presented food. My reviews of where I liked staying, eating and shopping will follow in the coming days.
If you read my previous post, you will know that I really enjoy shopping, but I can be easily put off by the crowds in shopping streets in central London, especially during weekends. When I go shopping I want to enjoy the process not only get the result. My favourite way to shop is to go to small independent boutiques in quieter parts of the city and buy lesser known designers and brands while chatting to friendly shop owners and assistants about style without having to wait for 30 minutes in queues for changing rooms.
Recently, I felt I needed more than just a fun shopping experience, I needed a style inspiration, having realised I have been going for the same safe “weekend look” for many weeks.
There are many ways to get a style inspiration: buy fashion magazines, look at fashion blogs, go window shopping. But sometimes to get a style inspiration one must go to a place where fashion trends are created and where style is not an option, it is a way of life. In London these places are Hackney and Dalston.
What to wear to this trendy part of the city was my main concern. I don’t have a fear of standing out, but I did not want to stand out for wrong reasons (i.e. lacking style imagination) in my smart casual weekend outfit consisting of jeans, blazer and ballerina flats. Plus, pushing style boundaries and trying new looks can be fun and very liberating.
After a quick look in my wardrobe I found something I thought could work. A skirt I would normally wear on a warm day was replaced by bright animal print shorts (previously worn only once and on holiday) and paired with a t-shirt in a “clashing” pattern (but complementing colour – the aim was not to dress up as a clown). I swapped my favourite footwear – elegant ballerina pumps for slightly edgier black sandals, decorated with metal chain. Finishing my look with a bright red lipstick and a big brooch, I felt ready to meet the hipsters. Don’t worry, I was not self-delusional to think this outfit made me a Dalston hipster or a trendsetter, but I felt more comfortable in my “adventurous” outfit.
The shopping event I went to was called the Stylist’s Rail. It hosted a number of independent sellers and designers, many selling vintage clothes and accessories.
There, not only did I get my style inspiration, but I also found some unique pieces, some of which I can wear to work, at very affordable prices – always a win in my opinion. The quality of merchandise was very good. I found many designer vintage pieces at much lower prices than in more established vintage shops. Of course I could not resist buying a beautiful 1950s style vintage dress from Tuk Vintage, a recently established vintage online shop selling hand-picked pieces from France and the UK .
And, very importantly, my weekend style dilemma has been resolved thanks to a unique piece from Ingo Kraftchenko, an upcycled vintage designer. Her beautiful sheer silk maxi skirt will help me feel at home among trendy East Londoners next time I decide to go there.
The Stylists Rail holds monthly sale events in East London. I highly recommend it, if you want to have a relaxed and fun shopping experience and an opportunity to buy good quality vintage pieces. The next sale event is held on 1 September.
Earlier this week I decided to do something crazy by my standards: take a day off from work and spend this day pampering myself at the Berkeley, a luxurious London hotel. As I really needed a break but was unable go on holiday, I wanted to spend a day enjoying the sun on a rooftop by a pool and the Berkeley hotel pool was the only one I could find in London that would make me feel like I am on holiday. It turns out, there aren’t many rooftop pools in London.
So what’s so crazy about that, you may ask. Here’s what it is. Firstly, I do not ‘waste’ my precious holiday days (those working in the corporate world will know what I mean) on spending time off in London when I can use this time to travel. But having realised that having a day off was a need rather than luxury, I accepted that spending a day by the pool at the Berkeley would be a worthy mini break. Then I faced my second problem: how can I justify spending in one day in London what I would pay for a flight to a European beach destination? I don’t do that. Surely that is not a sensible way to spend my hard-earned money. And what if it rains? This is London after all, nobody can guarantee a full day of sunshine. Will this mean my money is wasted?
I suspect a lot of us have similar thoughts when we think about pampering themselves. We find excuses and reasons not to do it. I know many women who can come up with a list of at least 10 reasons in under 5 minutes, myself included. Why is it so difficult to really give ourselves what we deserve? Is it because it is not sensible to spend so much money on something we don’t really need? But who defines ‘sensible’ and who says we don’t need it?
Hoping to find answers to these question I committed to having my day off at the Berkeley. And here is what I discovered.
A day of luxury away from work and domestic issues was exactly what I needed. I now feel more in control of my life, I am not blaming others or the world for challenges I encounter and I feel capable of dealing with them.
By prioritizing myself, I send a clear message to others: “I matter”. I have noticed how differently I am treated at work and by loved ones
Money, as I am discovering is like energy: it comes and goes. One needs to spend it to get more. On the morning of my day off when I committed to treating myself irregardless of the weather (that would make my spending more worthwhile to my logical mind), I received money unexpectedly.
Allowing my body to rest and giving it what it needed – a day of relaxation – helped me to avoid a burnout and improved my physical state.
Slowing down and reconnecting with myself does amazing things not only to my body but to mental and emotional state too. I feel calm, creative, joyful and grateful for all the wonderful people in my life, for my work and environment.
Spending a day in beautiful stylish environment in the calmness of lavender-scented roof terrace gave me a lot of style inspiration.
Having enjoyed this luxurious experience I no longer consider it extravagant. Giving myself a luxurious treat when I needed it is one of the most sensible things I have done in a long time.
Yesterday, after reading that Issa, a British designer, famous for its versatile elegant dresses, designed a collection for Banana Republic and realising it was nearly sold out after its launch last week, I rushed to one of the branches near my office (one of the advantages of working in the West End). Unsurprisingly, most items from the 40-piece limited edition collection were sold out. Trying to make up for being late, I was grabbing everything I could find in my size. Ridiculous, I know! But my love for designer bargains sometimes clouds my ability to think.
Although I usually prefer to buy lesser known brands that I am less likely to see on someone else the next day, somehow a combination of designer name on a label that reads “limited edition” and affordable price tag made it ok in my mind to buy clothes that I will probably see other women wearing. Issa is elegant, not trendy, which means I can wear the pieces I buy for years, I told myself, as I carried 6 items to the changing room.
It was only in the changing room that I was able to pause and think. I did not want to repeat my past shopping mistakes, which included impulsive shopping, buying clothes only because they were on sale, original or recommended by a magazine I like. As a result, many times I ended up with a wardrobe full of pieces that don’t work together, don’t fit properly or don’t make me feel good, leaving me frustrated in the morning because I had nothing to wear to work.
So how did I walk out of the shop with two, not five, dresses (one of them now returned) when the temptation was strong and the money argument did not work?
The first step is to recognise when I am going back to “old ways”. It usually helps me to stop for a second and think about all those piles of clothes I have taken home over the years to give to my family and friends, many of them never worn.
Then, in my head I go through these basic shopping rules
Don’t buy when under time pressure. Going to shop in my lunch break was a mistake and I did buy a dress that was not a perfect fit, which I have now returned. Lesson learnt (again)!
This takes me to rule number two: the fit has to be perfect. This may seem like an obvious one, but I have failed to follow it on a number of occasions and I know others who have too. But what to do if the piece you really, really want is not available in your size or doesn’t fit perfectly? Paula Reed, Grazia’s style director, in her book “Style Clinic” advises: “If a jacket doesn’t fit in the shoulders or lie flat when buttoned, get over it.” “Don’t buy anything badly finished.” “If a garment needs shortening or needs the waist nipped in, fine. But if it needs more, forget it.”
The same goes for colour. I now buy clothes in colours that flatter my complexion and complement or match other items in my wardrobe.
Versatility is important. Paula Reed does not recommend buying an item if you can’t see yourself in more than five completely different situations in it, unless it is eveningwear or sportswear. However, when I am buying something I intend to wear to work, I apply the versatility rule in a slightly different way. I think how easy it will be to combine what I plan to buy with different accessories, jackets and cardigans to create different ‘looks’ for the office. For me, there have to be at least 4 different looks I can create with a piece. Potential to wear a garment day to night is important for me as a woman working in an office who does not have time to go home and change before going out after work.
How does an item make me feel? This is probably the most important factor. Style for me is not so much about the clothes I wear, it is really about how I feel when I wear them. Do I feel great about myself when I see myself in the mirror? Do I feel beautiful? Do I want to smile and begin to daydream about wearing the item I am trying on? If the answer is yes, then it is a sign that I need to buy it, even if it does not seem “sensible” or necessary. Similarly, if a dress or a top is recommended as a must have by a fashion editor I admire, but does not make me feel amazing, there is no reason to buy it. I trust my intuition in this situation.
The temptation to buy on impulse may be very strong at times, but as with any temptation, if we take several deep breaths and pause for a couple of minutes, it becomes less powerful or sometimes goes away entirely.
So what did I buy at the end? A flowy blue-green dress I can wear now and when the weather gets cooler in multiple ways and dress up or down.