Victoria Beckham, pictured above, always makes a massive effort with her rig outs and I’m constantly in awe. Of course, she has whole teams of professionals to help her get those pap-perfect looks ready for every airport customs and limo exit.
But there are people who make a big effort every day without that kind of SWAT team. There’s one in the offices below where I have my little writing bolt hole (to get me away from the chicken-marinading, laundry-folding, Twitter-checking procrastination temptations of the domestic setting…)
It’s a nurses’ agency and one of the women who works there always has a look going on. It might be a white pinstripe pant suit with a heel. A bright pink fabric flower in her hair. A statement scarf.
She’s not a Boldie (which the hive mind has decided is a better term for Bolder Older Ladies, than the previously suggested Foldie…), or a crazy young thing, obsessed with the latest fad.
I’d put her in her late 30s, which is a pretty sensible age. She just likes to put a look on. She makes an effort. And every time I see her, I wish I’d made more of one.
I told her so the other day, in the shared kitchen: ‘You always look great. I love seeing what you wear every day, it really cheers me up.’
And I wasn’t at all surprised when she answered in a broad northern English accent. I’d guess Yorkshire.
My friend Pam is another one. She’s a Lancashire lass, a professional gardener by trade, and when I bumped into her as she set off for work last week, she had her hair in a chignon, big pearl earrings and a large silk flower pinned on the front of her Barbour waxed jacket. For a day of bedding out plants.
Women from the north of England just seem to make much more of an effort with their everyday styling and grooming, than ones from the Midlands (where I grew up) or the South..
Scottish women and the Irish (my Dublin friends are beautifully dressed) also score highly. I don’t have enough experience of Welsh girls to know where to put them in the pecking order – I’d love you to tell me – but in England, the north wins. Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.
Of course, as you’ll know if you’ve ever watched The Only Way Is Essex (see Amy Childs, above), women from that county (almost a separate country) have their own fiercely-groomed and ferociously spray-tanned agenda, but north country girls are the best turned out overall.
It’s not just taking the trouble to put on make up and do their hair – as opposed to just having their hair, like southern girls seem to – there seems to be a pride in putting a look together, showing your flair, which southern women seem to think is a bit embarrassing.
As though you’re big noting yourself in some unacceptable immodest some way, or – much worse – trying too hard (nightmare!).
The two women pictured here – accessories designer Katie Hillier (left) and stylist/magazine editor Katie Grand (right) – have been the coolest babes in London’s fashion world for years now, and are to me the epitome of the don’t make it look like you’ve tried Southerly style.
(Although Grand was born in Leeds she grew up in the Midlands and says her interest in fashion was inspired in her teens by her brother’s girlfriend from London…she’s an honorary southerner now.)
Their former party pal designer Luella Bartley (now retired and resident in Cornwall, seen here collecting her MBE), is another classic of the genre. And I fear my years in London’s fashion scene infected me with the uncool-to-try virus.
Over my time in Australia I did improve my game a bit, until I was having the regular blow dries and pedicures which are so normal in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and north shore – and still relatively unusual in the southern counties of England.
Does the standard vary like this between different parts of other countries? We all know about the Melbourne penchant for black and the Sydney preference for showing quite a bit of flesh, but I’ve never seen a better dressed bunch of women than in the queue for the Valentino exhibition in Brisbane last year.
Of course, you’d have to be interested in style to go to that show, but I was blown away by the elegance and immaculate grooming all around me. You’d never see ladies like that at a London exhibition, not even a fashion one.
I’m always very amused by the crowds at the V&A exhibits, who clearly consider themselves the last bastions of civilisation, keepers of the country’s cultural heritage etc etc, while elbowing you sharply out of the way as they re-don their specs-on-a-chain to get a better look at the quilt you were studying.
I’m trying to steer myself a path somewhere in the middle. I know I’m not up to doing a full Northern look every day of the week, but unlike London’s queens of cool, I never leave the house without wearing make up. I invest in the best hairdos I can find and blow dry it sleek and bouffy with my fabulous Babyliss Big Hair (see earlier post).
And I’ve noticed an interesting development in Mrs Beckham’s styling since she has become a serious player in the fashion world herself, as a properly respected designer – Kate Hillier is designing her handbag collection, which was the final stamp of approval.
She’s definitely loosening up a bit. I even saw a few stray strands of hair in this pic from last November (where she’s also wearing one of Hillier’s ‘paperclip’ necklaces…).
In about twenty years time, we may meet in the middle.