Rule: if you’re going to be scrutinised, seek expert advice

In Fashionistas, Royal Wedding, Uncategorized, Weddings on May 12, 2011 at 10:39 am


I completely forgot to post this for Wednesday. So sorry (or ‘soz’, as my daughter says). I’m crap. I think it was probably because I’m very deeply stuck into the germination of a novel and my hold on the real world is even more tenuous than normal.


I’m so glad I’m no longer editor-in-chief of an international fashion magazine. Back when I was a front row fixture at the European and New York designers shows (I was heading up British ELLE and it was an awfully long time ago now..) I found it fiercely stressful getting the magazine out, while being away from the office for four weeks at a time, twice a year, attending the shows that turn the wheel of fashion.

If I’d also had to have been picture perfect every second of those fashion weeks as well, I would have blown a gasket. In those days photographers only took pictures of the models on the runway and the odd celeb in row A, and there weren’t even many of those.

There was one chap – New York snapper, Bill Cunningham, so legendary they’ve just released a feature-length docco about him – who would grab pictures of the audience as they arrived, but that was it.

But while I didn’t have the pressure today’s editors have to look red carpet ready while turning up for work each day, I did have to look reasonable. The front row was always a big deal. Then there were all the crucial advertiser parties and lunches and dinners and breakfasts to attend.

Although the reason I’d been given the job was because I was quite good at coming up with ideas and finding the best writers and photographers to make them into something special, once I became an editor-in-chief I was rather surprised to find I was suddenly also the public face of the magazine as well. Brains weren’t enough any more. I also had to look the part – eek!

While I’ve always been obsessed with fashion and style – that’s why I wanted to edit a fashion magazine in the first place – it’s always been on quite an analytical level. I can tell you the exact structure of a Chanel jacket and date Dior launched the New Look (February 12th, 1947), but that didn’t mean I was expert in dressing myself for my very particular new role.

So what did I do? I asked for advice.

The person I asked was my Executive Fashion Editor, who was always perfectly dressed and groomed. Her job was to schmooze advertisers and PRs, so the talent to look right was a large part of what got her hired in the first place. And she’d been dressing to impress fashion industry insiders for years.

Her advice was brilliant. Invest in the best tailoring and don’t worry about being on season. If you stay away from anything to quirky, the good stuff lasts.

In particular, she told me to buy a ‘le smoking’ tuxedo jacket and never travel without it. You’ll always be prepared for a surprise invitation. I did exactly what she told me and that tux was my best friend for years. In fact, I still have it (although sadly, I didn’t look like this in it…).

That wise counsel served me well through my years of fashion show front rows, lunches with Yohji Yamamoto and dinner with Jean Paul Gaultier.

So if I’d ever been invited to an event that was going to be watched by a third of the world’s population and had a role in life that meant my outfit was bound to be intensely scrutinised, I would once again have sought advice from an expert.

If only Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie had done that.

Maggie Alderson’s new book Style Notes is out now (in Australia) published by Penguin.

  1. This one’s good. Creeps up on you then “bang!” Even though there was a big clue at the beginning it was forgotten as soon as I started thinking as dressing for work, fashion-editor style! Thanks, Maggie.

  2. Well, yes. Absolutely.
    In a sea of sublime creations and understated elegance, my first impression of these two were: Is it supposed to be some sort of joke laid on for our amusement? I half expected them to break into song or tell someone she couldn’t go to the ball…hem hem.

    Didn’t anyone talk to them beforehand??!

  3. Another great article. Thank you. I was hoping you’d write about this. But surely they did get advice from someone? It’s not like they whipped up their frocks themselves on their sewing machine, or got the dressmaker around the corner to make them. I just feel that they were given really bad advice. Surely, at some stage, Beatrice mentioned to the guys at Valentino that she was having ‘this fabulous hat made’, and surely someone at Vivienne Westwood could have said ‘this shape isn’t quite right for you’, Beatrice. But you are so right; it’s like they need expert advice about being in the public eye, but how could they not realise this, given what’s happened to their family? I feel so sorry for them (I mean that nicely). It must be so humiliating. I think Kate Middleton has had expert advice for such a long time. Surely someone can reach out to these two. Maggie, I would find it really interesting to know your opinion on all the other hats. I live in Brisbane, where you don’t wear a hat to church, and hats like this are like fascinating objects from another planet. I found your recent explanation of racing attire so interesting.

  4. Just got the Royal Wedding ‘Hello’ in melbourne so I can check out the guests…oh my the ‘ugly sisters’ not so ugly at all but the ensemble, hello?

  5. Hello, I am hoping to get int touch with the owner of this website. I would like to reproduce an image of ‘Teddy Boys’ that has appeared on your blog. My email is

  6. Apparently their mum suggested the hats…or whatever these are on their heads!

    Unfortunately you can’t cure bad taste but please, PLEASE ask somebody [obviously not your sister OR your mum in this case] for advice. I am so afraid that these creations will become popular. I hope there were limited edition. Very limited edition.

    Good luck with your new book Maggie!

  7. You know, I think Beatrice (the one in pink, if I have it right) looks okay, even the hat. It’s Eugenie who looks overblown and resulting combined sisters is too too much. But Beatrice on her own would have looked good.

  8. The hat is just SUCH a distraction. Whether or not it is considered high fashion or high treason, it’s a big, distracting thing on top of her head. Presumably she was included in the official photographs, the big family portraits? All eyes will be on that hat. I have photographed a few weddings and it always breaks my heart to see wedding guests who have made either no effort to dress well for the occasion, or have put on something that is deliberately loud and attention-seeking. I think that if you are invited to a wedding – particularly one where the bride exudes a certain style – you have a responsibility to dress appropriately, so that you will look good in the pictures and you won’t detract from the style of the day. Beatrice would have looked gorgeous and appropriate if she had just worn that lovely coat dress with something demure on her head. I agree, Maggie, she should have asked for some advice from a professional. (And even if she turns up in something similarly daring at the next society event, and crazy hats become her ‘thing’, I still contend that this hat was inappropriate for this occasion.)

  9. You had me at “novel”. How long does it usually take you from germination to a copy in my hot litlle hands? I love your books!

  10. The Princesses may be wearing these fugly dresses and hats. However, they are the work of a some well known designers. Vivienne Westwood and Philip Treacy, stand up please and take a bow. I am not sure which is the bigger crime, wearing them or designing them.

  11. Indeed you did. Perhaps not the wisest business practice to mock the paying client.

  12. Hi Maggie

    Thanks for the heads up – got “shall we dance” sent over with my folks from Australia (along with my vintage gold jewellery, bless them..) but now that I’ve digested that (within 48 hrs I might add!), am I able to get style notes in the uk? And if so, who from?

    Thanks again for being my style icon

    Precious xx

    • Hi Precious, sadly not… It’s only sold in Aus. So the best you can do is get someone to mail it out to you. Sorry about that – and thanks for being so lovely xxx

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