How much effort do you make?

In Famous people, Grooming, Stylists on April 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm

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.

  1. Yes. Absolutely. There’s ‘Major effort and self-obsession’ then there’s ‘Making an effort and self-worth’ I prefer the latter.

    I love the pared-down concept of ‘Making an effort’: an updo with the uniform, or a brooch on the barbour, it’s rather nice. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t demand a high-end budget, nor an entourage of primpers, pedicurists and paparazzi. It rather reminds me of my grandmother who arrived for a weekend with all her clothes, gloves, stockings and strings of beads lovingly wrapped in tissue paper. I was fascinated as she shook each out and hung them up. I realised I was in the presence of someone who cared what she looked like. Even at 70. (She was a true Boldie). And she made that sort of effort every day. My mother too. She even polished her shoe insteps, for heaven’s sake!.
    Maybe in these austere times, such small efforts may well stop us from going under…………
    So, thank you from a Category 2er.xx

  2. Oh no! I just filed a story on “Foldies” for a supplement to the newspaper I write for — and now I read this! I think it just may be too late to change to Boldies! I do think I prefer this term more. However, so be it. Not to fret, I not only credited you with the term Foldie, but gave your style notes address so my readers can check you out. Perhaps this will build a Seracoast area (we are in New England) redership for you. I took photos of two of our city’s prominent fashion ladies – Boldies! Both even saw the exhibit last year of Iris Apfel, so you know they are in the know.
    Thank you so much for your style notes. i wish I’d known about Boldies before I filed m story — which will no doubt use the term in the title!

  3. I laughed out loud when I saw the title of this blog. I make No Effort At All. I wear exactly the same thing (jeans, cardi, some sort of top, boots) every day. I can dimly remember the days when I used to make a bit of an effort, but I will never be one of those well-groomed ladies who lunch, who always look immaculate. How do they do that?
    There’s a girl in our office who always looks incredibly chic. She’s Spanish, which I think is the same as Northern.
    I hate cheap makeup, shoes and hairdressers, so I suppose my extremities must look semi-OK. But the bit in the middle? I think it left the room when I wasn’t looking and sneaked off to Marks and Spencer.

  4. Oooh so in agreement – I was heard to ask rather loudly at our local cheap & cheerful Italian when did tracksuit pants become de rigueur for going out for a bite on a Friday night?? Pleeeeeaaase make an effort for the people who have to look at you… if not for yourself

  5. Oh thank god Mrs Beckham is loosening up a bit. A stray hair! Shock, horror. I actually love her look but sadly have maybe one occasion a year where it would be appropriate to dress like that. Can’t quite muster the nerve to go supermarket shopping or the school run in a pencil skirt and towering heels. I have a wardrobe full of beautiful high heeled shoes that I can no longer walk in, have lost the knack. Big earrings were a saviour but the bub has just hit the grab ’em and pull stage, ouch. Must get back into those heels! Like riding a bike, right? Just have to get back on.

    • The only thing about the post-partum heel is that the feet can SPREAD during pregnancy… Some of my most gorgeous shoes (Manolos…) no longer fit. I’m keeping them for child and hoping she doesn’t get trotters above a 37.

  6. But but but … she’s so ugly. Her look might be great, from the neck down, but I can’t stand VB’s emaciated face. And I would never usually make the effort to be so critical of another woman in print (even in an anonymous blog comment), but the fact that she’s held up as worthy of admiration or emulation is something that makes me cross.

    Meanwhile, I find that I make quite a big effort when I live in the cold northern hemisphere and virtually no effort living in the hot south.

    • I didn’t say I admire her…. but I am in awe that any woman with three children (and another one of the way) can be so bothered about looking so perfect all the time. I’m glad she’s loosening up a bitxxx

  7. She always looks amazing and I am with Anne – I have a wardrobe full of shoes I cannot wear anymore and can only look longingly at people who can and the new shoes in the catalogues and shops. At least I have stopped buying them now.

    • I will never stop buying them. Sometimes I wear them just to hobble into the room for dinner – and it’s worth it for feeling so much better. But for every day? No thanks.

  8. Sorry Maggie, I didn’t mean that you specifically were holding her up for admiration (though I guess in a way you were 😉 ) – I meant that she gets so much coverage in the mags, she’s got such a high profile as a fashionable woman and I for one always flinch when I see her, looking so gaunt.

    • I think she’s too thin too. Way way too thin. And over concerned with her image. I did like her immensely though, when I watched a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary about her and David organising a charity ball. She was very smart and very funny.

  9. As a mid-30s inner-city Melburnian, there is an expectation that one will be immaculately groomed at all times (particularly amongst the ‘South Yarra’ set). That said, I am comfortable leaving my home with only a dash of concealer, hair in a pony tail, wearing leggings if I am ducking down the street for a coffee, walking my dog or grocery shopping. 

    However, I would never go to work or out to an event sans full makeup, heels and a put-together look (yes, a lot of black with a pop of colour for good measure)!  I book all of my grooming and maintenance appts in advance and admit that I do it all and enjoy it.  During Spring Racing carnival at the end of the year, Glam Squads are enlisted to add that professional hair/outfit/hair/accessories touch. 

    There are locals who still give you the ‘New York once over’ when dog walking in the local parks or collecting groceries – but why on earth would I dress up and make myself up to please them when I am a busy lady on a mission?

  10. Just got back from Sunday lunch at my brother and sister-in-law’s place, where I wore jeans and a t-shirt. However, I also had on the 3 minute make-up I don’t leave the house without applying, my hair done and lovely beads with some complementary accessories.
    I always make an effort, even if it is just to get the groceries- my theory is no point having all those lovely things and never wearing them, so I try to wear my nice things every day, without going over the top.
    I like to think that means I’ve found a middle ground where I can wear jeans and a t-shirt but also a complementary scarf or beads or other jewellery. I hope this looks put together without being too try-hard with a basic make-up job.

  11. Reading all these comments makes me feel quite heartened – feel most of us are probably happiest with a comfortable middle ground somewhere!
    Regarding Mrs Beckham, well, I’ve never been a fan, but if anyone is smart and funny they can, in my books, be forgiven for most misdemeanors….and that includes being way too thin!!

  12. Very interested to hear about your chic friend the professional gardener. It struck me that in all their “how to” guides, Trinny and Susannah offered no style advice for women in hands-on professions. Gardening is a good example. Another example is personal training.

    I’m a swimming teacher and feel very challenged to be stylish on days when I work. Trakkie daks in public are unavoidable. Layers of fine merino knits in jewel colours help to keep me warm after several hours in the pool and I finish off with a colourful scarf around my neck, wet hair scraped into a bun. I’m usually too cold, hungry and tired to do makeup of any sort. The next stop is walking the dog or picking kids up from school so getting into finery just doesn’t make sense.

    On days when I’m not working, there’s a bit more effort (jeans, Tshirt, cardi, scarf, beads). And I love nothing more than making a real effort for lunch, dinner or an occasion.

    I look at Victoria Beckham and it makes me feel tired. She must have a lot of help.

    • Yes, it must be exhausting. She must be so driven, to be so successful but still to keep pushing herself like that. In your case, you must be so fit it wouldn’t all matter nearly so much!

  13. I love to make an effort! I think I’d be a Boldie,Maggie – 61 and still in fulltime work as a High school teacher.I love to dress well and get a huge kick out of putting my outfits together for work each day! What worries me about Victoria Beckham is that she never smiles. She always looks unhappy.

    • Yes, as I said below, I can’t imagine being so driven. She’s successful on so many levels and still pushing herself so hard. Her dad is a very successful self-made man, so I guess it’s in the genes… And with regard to what you say about yourself, I think kids really appreciate the teachers who make the effort. I can still remember the ones who did. x

  14. I try and make an effort. It is always an appropriate look for whatever I am doing. I think it shows respect for yourself and others. The idea of what constitutes an effort is different for everyone. I hardly ever wear make up but I will make sure that my hair is clean and tidy and I always wear jewellery . There is a lovely scene in the book Almost French by Sarah Turnbull where she tries to leave the house in trakie daks to go to the patisserie on a Sunday morning. Her French boyfriend looks at her trackies and stops her. She asks why can’t she go in her trackies and he replys “It is not nice for the baker”. This is now used in our house when my husband or I think the other is not appropriately dressed. The way the French dress is another topic to be discussed….

    • Oh I LOVE that! It’s all part of that French politesse – when you go in to any shop, you must always look the proprietor/assistant in the eye and say ‘Bonjour!’ very cheerily and the same as you leave., ‘Au revoir!’ I was once told off my by a masseuse at the Paris Ritz because my toenail polish was all chipped and uncared for. I now see it ‘wasn’t very nice for the masseuse’!

  15. Oh my, I remember that line in Almost French too…it’s so true! I cried with laughter! I love the French and the Italians. It is unspeakable not to be well presented! Is one mentally ill?

    It is hysterical coming home to Australia after a trip abroad, I always vow never ever to be a sloth in public, it is unfair for all to endure me!

    • You should see the state of the Poms these days… It used to drive my late father (never short of immaculate, except when he was working in the garden) nuts 30 years ago. I can’t imagine what he would say if he could see the scruffy hordes now.

  16. Whilst looking around at shoppers at my local Westfield I came to the conclusion that cheap cotton knit fabric is the scourge of the western world. It looks terrible and it screams “I have made no effort”. It is probably bad for the environment and I am boycotting it from today.

    • Yes! It’s terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrible for the environment. Whole swathes of Central Asia (the ‘stan’ countries, which used to be part of USSR) have been ecologically wrecked in pursuit of cheap cotton. They have used too much water and affected the water table. On top of that they use incredible amounts of pesticide as cotton is a very vulnerable crop – and CHILD workers. It’s a disaster on so many levels. So yes, on ethical and aesethetic grounds your conclusion is SPOT

  17. I try to make an effort, I really do. But on my days off, I tend to get around looking like a dog’s breakfast sad to say. When I read “Shall We Dance” I got all inspired and went straight to my favourite vintage shop to get kitted out.. but alas it didn’t stick. I’d love to have a bunch of stylists helping me out.. especially choosing work out fits. I figure if I keep checking in here, and keep asking my friend DramaQueen for advice, I’ll get there in the end.. I hope!! Perhaps Maggie, you would consider doing a post on what classic pieces are essential for the mummies amongst us who are on a tight budgets and time schedules? That would be a great help 🙂

  18. I have just this dynamic at my office with a lady from Adelaide turning up every day in a polished serious look- making all the Sydney ladies feel more shabby than cool! Well observed.

  19. I too have a bolt hole office to keep me away from at home distractions so I can actually get some work done. I wear ballet flats on the train and change into heels in the office (to complete the suit/hair/make-up combination). My friends are highly amused by this. “But you are in an office by yourself” they cry. “But others would see me, the concierge, the barista, others in the shared kitchen, people in the lift” I reply. And I believe Casual Fridays are an abomination and should be banned. Hideous get-ups on people who should know better.

    On a trip to Europe a couple of years ago we went via Hong Kong where everyone wears the most beautiful shoes. Regardless of their work or circumstance, their shoes are always clean, no scuffed toes or scabby heels, the shoes were the foundation of the effort made with the rest of the outfit. Then we got off the long haul at Heathrow and on to the tube in London. Oh dear. Things looked up considerably in Italy (oh the boots & the knits, we were there in winter) and the French girls clearly have polish in their DNA. I did a lot of surrupticious observation, hoping I could spot their secrets…

  20. Hi Maggie, I’ve mentioned you on my blog. Thankyou for following me!

    I am a HUGE effort maker. This new born baby is not slowing me down one bit- I just get up earlier and get ready FASTER. Remember when Barbara Amiel (Mrs Conrad Black) said that Clothes were her Armour? Well I think making an effort with how i look is my Armour. Plus when I look good I feel Better! x

    • You are a star. I wish I could keep to your standards but I think my 25% English genes (rest Scottish) makes it impossible. OK that’s a lame excuse! xxx

  21. What do i say to a friend who is scared of looking better/smarter & sticks with the same ill fitting things? (money is not the issue & she sees that the things are ill fitting). She says her friends are like that & she doesnt want to be different to them & she “wants to be herself”. However she approached me to help her with her wardrobe recently & now we have found some lovely well fitting & appropriate things for her, she is sabotaging herself again by resisting any changes. I know I cant impose changes until she wants to change, but what sort of words can I use to prompt her thinking along? She’s a mum, 42, amazing body but doesnt recognise that either…huge potential….gggrrr…

    • There is NOTHING you can say…. you’ve done your best. She clearly has issues with being the best she can be and feels safer if she knows she can hide behind being ‘less than’ she could be. You’re not her therapist, you’re a very good friend and you tried. Now the amateur anaylyst in me is wondering why it makes you so cross…. hmmmm (strokes beard and reaches for volume of Freud) xxx

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