Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Seven Days of Positive – Day 97

In cashmere, New Year's Eve, Shopping on December 30, 2014 at 10:06 pm


This is the weirdest time of year in the UK.

It’s much better in Australia because it’s summer holidays and everyone is legitimately chilled, but over here – where we are very much chilled in the original meaning of the word, it’s freeeeezing – it’s all half-arsed and peculiar.

Strictly speaking yesterday, today and tomorrow are normal working days, but you try getting hold of a plumber, as I’ve been trying to do. No chance.

Because so many companies just close down from Christmas Eve to January 2nd, everyone is crouched in a kind of limbo state. Living and partly living.

You don’t feel entitled to lie on the sofa watching Harry Potter films and mainlining chocolates, which I consider a perfectly acceptable way to spend Boxing Day, but it’s hard to settle to any proper work either – although I have to, because I’ve got to get something finished and fast.

Tomorrow night is a moment to get through as far as I’m concerned. I’ve done my share of wildly celebrating New Years and loved it, but these days unless I’ve got a really jolly invitation worth putting high heels on for, I secretly relish staying in and sneaking off to bed before midnight.

There’s something oddly magical about going to sleep in one year and waking up in another.

Then it’s only two more weird days – New Year’s Day followed by a random-feeling Friday until we’re into a normal weekend and then a proper working Monday. I’m ready for that.

Meanwhile, I’ve done the only thing a girl can do when feeling a bit arse over and discombobulated. I bought this fab jumper in the sales.

Cashmere, grey, cute sweatshirt detail and raglan sleeves – and nearly £50 off. Get in!

In the flush of this sale find I couldn’t resist this great silk top in my favourite colour, Very Dark Navy.


How useful will this be? Both were from Jigsaw.

For more like this, see my Pinterest board ‘Things I’ve Bought Recently’.


Seven Days of Positive – Day 81

In Family, junk shopping, Shopping, Vintage on December 8, 2014 at 11:58 pm


Today had a little bit of fairy dust sprinkled on it.

I sat at my computer this morning and went straight on to eBay to see if I could find some vintage decorations to put on the top of my first ever home-made Christmas cake.

Along with an increasing sense of outrage at the profiteering prices – £19 for one old plaster Santa – grew my sense of grief about the tin of cake decorations which my mum gave to a charity shop in a fit of empty nest fury, some years ago.

Me and my sister have never got over it.

The tin itself was a marvel. It had been my grandmother’s and I would date it from about 1910. It had the most lovely purple and gold designs on it and inside…. Oh, inside!

I think I could just about list everything that was in that tin. I used to get it down from my mother’s baking cupboard and play with it all, making little tableaux.

The plaster snowmen, santas and a little cottage-y thing. The wood and plastic fir trees, plastic children on a sledge and some skiers. That was just the Christmas cake area.

All our birthday cakes were there. Ballerinas. Cowboys on horseback and, I think, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Years of little plastic candle holders. Random candles, which gave the tin a very specific smell of wax and old cake.

What really kills me is that she gave it away before the whole home baking and decorating schtick had taken off and no one had yet been clever enough to invent the term ‘vintage’ for second hand.

I’m sure whoever unpacked my mum’s bag of donations had a look in that tin, saw a load of ‘dirty old’ cake decorations and threw the whole thing in the bin.

Thinking about that got my day off to a grumpy start and I was glad later to have the excuse of posting a letter to get out of the house.

On the way back from the post, I took a wander up Courthouse Street, the best junketeering spot in this junketeering town. I popped in to see my mate Mick, to see if he had a card table. We need one.

He didn’t, but he had a lot of other enticing delights. It felt snow cold today, so clever of Mick to have this Rosebud out.


It’s one of my ambitions to have a bar in my house one day. I just need to get a bigger house first.


Loving this desk.


Mick then suggested I went along to number 17 to see Ollie, at Betty B Vintage, as he thought she might have a card table. This is another shop I love and before I’d even got through the door I’d found the perfect chair for my daughter’s bedroom.


She didn’t have any card tables, but once inside I couldn’t resist having a mooch about. So many treasures.


And when I got round to the far side of the space, I found these…


£2 each. The start of my very own cake decoration tin.

I was so happy I went and bought a lottery ticket.

Seven Days of Positive – Day 78

In Food, Shopping on December 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm


A brand new branch of Aldi opened yesterday about a mile and a half straight up the hill from my house. I was so excited to get myself into it this morning.

The German supermarket chain which, along with the competing brand Lidl (and they’re owned by competing brothers, just to add to the intrigue), is cutting swathes through the UK food retail scene.

Supermarkets own food here in a way they haven’t quite yet managed to do in Australia and while it has to be said that a branch of Waitrose, or Sainsburys is a pleasure to shop in (Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, not so much), their overbearing dominance has meant the death of many a fine high street, where a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker – plus a fruit and veg shop and a fishmongers – had served the community for generations.

They can’t possibly compete on price with such giants of economies of scale.

The ‘big four’ (T, M, A and S above) have come to be seen as rather unscrupulous consumer-fleecing, producer-murdering corporate machines by the British public, so there has been a rather joyful uptake of these more recent arrivals with their quirky European stock, no frills sets up – and astonishing prices.

When it first arrived in the UK, Lidl was seen as rather a desperation destination, but now it’s positively chic to shop there.

My mum – always an early uptaker, I’ve just taken possession of a desk she bought from Habitat’s very first collection – has been going on about Lidl for years, ever since she was taken to one in Germany by a rather grand family friend.

‘If Hanne shops there,’ she says, ‘it must be good quality.’

And it is, that’s the extraordinary thing.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been doing my main shop up at Sainsburys, then stopping at Lidl on the way home to get specific things: the amazing huge tubs of the best Greek yogurt you can buy; free range British chickens for £5; delicious bags of pretzels; really good bread; great smoked salmon and all kinds of charcuterie, wurst and pork products.

The salami with fennel seeds is one of the best I’ve ever tasted.

It’s not all great. The tinned tomatoes are watery and weird (although my foodie friend Henrietta Green told me that if you boil them down a bit and add a bit of sugar, before using, they are as good as the premium brands). My cat walks away from the pouched food. The really cheap wine is nasty. But mostly it’s really good and I usually spend about £40.

So I’m delighted to have this Aldi just up the road, a much more direct drive than Lidl and a spanking new store, where the trolleys still go in the same direction as you. (That won’t last long.)

It’s pretty similar to Lidl, although they don’t do the Greek yogurt, annoyingly, so I’ll have to make a side trip to pick that up, or the family will protest. But I got my free range chicken and they had some things Lidl don’t do, such as frozen raspberries. (Great for trifles.)


A feature of both brands is a strange ‘middle aisle’, which is like a dodgy market in a Calais car park, where they pile up random stuff, usually seasonal, at ridic prices.

One week you might find document shredders, socket sets and children’s snow suits. The next, sprinklers, chocolate fountains and slug pellets. It’s bonkers.

I don’t normally bother with it, as it just seems like a temptation to bring more crap into the house, but today I got some really nice wool socks for my husband’s Christmas stocking and a true bargain – flock-covered, queen size air beds, with integral battery-operated air pumps. £22.99.


The last ones we had (for camping and sleepovers and now knackered from years of hard use) were £70 each.

The chrysanthemums in the picture at the top were £2 a bunch. Two makes an impressive show in the corner of my sitting room.

But while I’m delighted to have this alternative supermarket nearby, I will continue to buy my fruit and veg from the wonderful independent greengrocers, Carroll’s, nearby. They sell the biggest potatoes I have ever seen and wonderful fresh herbs.

In other shop news, ‘Paddy Patel’ as the hilarious Irish proprietors of my local corner store call themselves, have really gone to town on their Christmas grotto this year.

One of the santas sings…


Make Up Top Up

In Beauty, Make up, Shopping on July 4, 2014 at 9:59 am


On Monday morning I have a very delicious appointment. I’m going to meet myself in Selfridges beauty hall – one of my favourite places on the planet – and do a make-up bag re-stock. All at once I’ve run out of several of my key items and I can’t function without them.

Here’s my shopping list – and why, plus number of times I’ve bought each product.




Clinique Chubby Stick in Bountiful Blush
Chubby Sticks are the greatest thing to happen to lips since kissing. They give your smooch just enough colour to look dressed, but it slicks on like a lip balm, leaving no hard lines, so you don’t need to use a mirror to reapply. I have three shades, but this is my everyday Chubby, which I never leave the house without.

Purchase number: 4







contcntc613043198-nocolourChantecaille cream blush in Shy
I love cream blush. It gives a much more attractive glow than powdery old powder. This colour is a perfect natural bloom and goes on very lightly for easy blending without skin dragging. I also like the way you buy the outer compact – called ‘The Pebble’ – the first time and then just replace the disc of colour.

Purchase number: 3

(Actually I’ve just remembered they don’t stock this brand in Selfridges, so I’ll have to go to my very favourite store, Fenwick, a very dangerous place for me to enter, particularly if I go near the costume jewellery area…)





21vIbS38HcLFrancois Nars Larger than Life Long-Wear eyeliner in Madison Avenue
Isn’t it funny to think that a few years ago none of us ever wore eyeliner? I’ve always had a liquid liner in my make up drawer for special effects, but it was Amy Winehouse who brought it back for every day wear.

As I said in an earlier post about Mary Berry’s brilliant eye make up, I think it does particular favours for the older, more hooded eye and I never leave the house without it now, in various degrees, from the subtle definition to the full Elvis-era Priscilla Presley. For special occasions I have a Guerlain gold eyeliner which gives a fabulous effect.

I have liquids, gels and various kinds of pencil, but this soft push up crayon in slate grey is my go-to favourite. You can control the thickness and intensity of the line with no dragging of the delicate-eye-area and the grey gives a much more subtle effect than black.

I don’t do brown make up in any context.

Purchase number: 2




Bare Minerals, mineral make up in Medium Beige in the big 18g pot with a nice gold lid
This powder foundation actually changed my life. I still don’t quite understand how, but it completely covers my raised and blotchy rosacea skin without making me look and feel like I’m wearing some kind of suffocating mask.

It also acts as a non-chemical sunscreen, which is great as nothing makes my skin flare up more badly than the chemical kind (in fact, I think wearing that on my face every day for years was what caused it, but that’s just my theory).

I have lost track of how many of these I’ve bought, but this will be my second of the lovely big pots which look so glam on the dressing table.

Purchase number: 10? 12?


bare-mascara_300Clinique Naturally Glossy Mascara in Jet Black
I’m so bewildered by the constant barrage of claims made by beauty companies about mascara, I made a mascara launch part of the plot in my last novel Everything Changes But You (the heroine is a beauty editor…)

In my experience every volumising, length-doubling, thickening, luxuriating wonder mascara does the same thing: makes my eyelashes go into big ugly clumps like tarantula legs. Then it fills my eyes with lots of gritty little filaments.

I do have a Francois Nars Larger Than Life Lengthening Mascara which I use for big special-occasion make-up looks, but for every day I just want one which will coat my lashes with black and make them look more distinct. Clinique’s Naturally Glossy is that mascara.

Purchase number: 20? Lost count years ago.







There’s one other thing I’m going to treat myself to on my beauty spree, which is a new product: Charlotte Tilbury’s ‘Kate’ lipstick. A make up artist used this on me recently and I really loved the effect. I have quite a small mouth and this colour made it look much more voluptuous and I felt quite the (ageing disgracefully…) rock chick babe.

Here’s a link how to get this look.


Now tell me, what are your beauty repeat buys?

PS If you love the make up bag at the top – you can buy one here. Although after planning to buy them (she does other great slogans too, such as ‘New York is my boyfriend’) for all my girlfriends, I decided the postage cost is a bit steep.


Peter Pilotto for Target

In Designers, Shopping on January 15, 2014 at 11:23 am

Look-7.jpg target

Great excitement on opening my emails today – Peter Pilotto has done a range for Target. Woo hoo!

I’ve been obsessed with these clothes since I first saw their exquisite (and much imitated since…) digital prints in London Fashion Week reports five years ago – and I say ‘their’ because despite the singular name on the label, the clothes are designed by two men, the eponymous Mr Pilotto and Christopher De Vos.

Their biography gloriously encapsulates the global nature of modern high fashion: Pilotto is half-Austrian, half-Italian and De Vos is half-Belgian, half-Peruvian. The designers met whilst studying at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the year 2000. The label is based in London’s groovy East End.


From my first glimpse of them Peter Pilotto clothes joined the rank of the elite ranges I sneak into Liberty and Dover Street Market to stroke and sigh over. (Lanvin is top of that list…). These pics are from his spring/summer 2012, which was a particular favourite.

I treat them like museum artefacts to be appreciated, admired and adored, but which I could never buy. The dresses are around £1000, skirts £500.

So I’m thrilled to see that they’ve done a collection for Target, which will go on sale on February 9th. If the quality of my Philip Lim for Target sweatshirt is a benchmark, these will be worth having. The Philip Lim for Target dress at the top of the post will sell for US$69.99. Sweet.

Look-14.jpg Target $49.99Look-171.jpg TargetLook-3.jpg TargetLook-9.jpg target

Here are some of my favourite items from the Target collection and  you can click on this link for the full look book, as it appeared on Fashionista.

Some of the shapes look tricky to wear the way they’re styled here, but I can see great potential in the simpler pieces (how could you go wrong with a pencil skirt in one of those prints?) and I simply adore the tote bags.

40770-A-020-640x426Of course, if you live outside the US getting hold of the gear will be more of a challenge. Target doesn’t even exist in the UK and the Aussie stores didn’t get the Philip Lim range – so it will be a matter of begging US-based pals to shop for you, or accepting, as I did last time, that you’ll have to pay a little over the odds on eBay.

Or you could plan a little Stateside shopping vacation ha ha ha, although I’d rather pay more and not have to endure the mob scenes these designer ranges create when they are dropped into chain stores. Ugly.

And just to show why you should care, take a look at the last Peter Pilotto show at London Fashion Week last year.

Zen and the art of chain store shopping

In Clothes, Shopping on June 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Lily Cole, the model with a face like a Victorian painting of a flower fairy, skin like double cream and ridic long legs, has just got a Double First at Cambridge in History of Art. 

So she’s rich, thin, beautiful and clever. Probably also really nice and funny. But can she shop a chain store? Can she? Huh?

There is an art to it, but it can be learned. What has been surprising to me was realising that friends who can shop a flea market like a pro, are like rabbits in headlights when they walk into, say, H&M or TopShop, Oxford Circus, or even the lovely branch of Zara in Regent Street.

Dorothy Perkins £30

They wouldn’t even walk into a branch of Peacocks. I frequently do and sometimes come out with a gem.

For me it’s like surfing (or what I imagine surfing is like, having watched other people do it from the bar of Bondi Icebergs, in very high heels, nursing a mojito). You wait, you bide your time, then wheeee… jump on and ride your wave.

Zara £29.99

I’m trying to analyse why I can do it and others can’t and I can only assume it’s so many years of painful practice. If you subscribe to the 10,000 hours theory of expertise (read the book, Outliers, it’s brilliant…) I’ve definitely clocked up mine, stalking Chelsea Girl and Miss Selfridge – the only cool shops for young women in the 1970s – for anything vaguely wearable. The skill to search out the one good thing among hectares of shiny polyester, already splitting at the seams, has stuck with me.

I don’t want to be rude but I have noticed that chain store freak out is particularly prevalent among my Aussie gal pals, even among the most stylishly dressed. Especially amongst the most stylishly dressed…

TopShop £46

I think it must be because chain store culture just isn’t embedded there the way it is in the UK – the local market just isn’t big enough for the key economies of scale behind mass-produced kit to kick in. So I think my elegant Aussie pals are simply used to a much more exquisite shopping experience. With novel ideas like ‘service’.

I was bemused when I moved to Sydney in 1993 to find so many of my new friends, who I considered normal people with normal jobs, wore designer labels. Full retail!

TopShop £40

None of my friends in London wore them, unless they got to go the sample sales. But I soon came to realise that it was because the lower priced clothing offer was so limited in Australia, it was better to invest in a few good designer pieces instead and I started doing it too.

Zara £12.99

That is actually a much better way to dress, but as soon as I moved back to the UK (to be near my elderly mum…) I was immediately re-seduced by the chain store.

TopShop £5

And how they have improved! I shop right across the range from Primark and Peacocks at the lowest end, up through H&M, Next, Dorothy Perkins, River Island and TopShop, to the marvel that is Zara.

Ah, Zara… How I love it. All the Aussies who queued outside the branches there when they opened last week were right to do so. Such style, such élan, such quality – such prices.

Zara, floral blazer £39.99

But as my chain store-phobic Aussie friends tell me they find even that Aladdin’s cave bewildering – one texted me the other day, frozen with panic in a Rome branch – here is my guide to Zen and Chain Store Shopping.

Don’t go with any expectations
You can’t be looking for a particular thing, just be open and see what comes along.

Get into the zone
Switch your active brain off and just drift through seeing where your eye falls. It’s instinctive, there’s no method. Examine what you’re drawn to, then move on.

Don’t expect any service

If you’re really lucky some grumpbag might agree to go and get you another size, but don’t bank on it.

Never go chain store shopping at lunchtime
Every working girl in London is out looking for a new outfit for her hot date that night. Go morning, or afternoon, or you will have to queue to try on and to pay.

Rise above the other people
The place will be full of very annoying numpties. Just accept that as a given. Channel your inner Yoda and rise above it.

Buy and return
If possible, buy what you think you might like to try on at home/in your hotel room, with the right shoes, bra, jewellery, cardigan etc and return what you don’t like the next day. It’s a hassle but better than the heinous changing rooms.

Brace yourself for the changing rooms
If you do have to try on, be grateful they’re no longer communal as they were when I was a teen. That was hell. Remember the mirrors are tricked up to make you look taller. They deny it, but they are.

Put your handbag on the hook inside the changing booth
Even if the walls go down to the ground, hands can come through under the door when you’ve got a dress stuck over your head.

Check the fabric and trimmings
Don’t be entirely seduced by a cool and style, no matter how it flatters. Make sure the fabric, zips etc aren’t too cheap looking. Buttons can be changed but it’s a bit of a faff.

Check the seams and buttons
Make sure you haven’t picked one up that’s already been knackered by multiple try ons. Go back and pick up a fresh one exactly the same.

If you like it buy it
It won’t be there next time. Or not in your size.

Keep the receipt
Essential to return stuff.

Zara £29.99

The best and perfect colour

In Clothes, Fashionistas, Shopping on April 8, 2011 at 5:54 pm


Before I kick off – just a reminder to all Sydney readers – my column will appear in the S section of the Sun Herald from this Sunday onwards. And now back to normal service…

A couple of weeks ago I got completely hysterically obsessed with the Vivienne Westwood Anglomania dress pictures above (as seen on the Matches website

Not only because it looks like it would be both flattering and very comfortable – a rare enough combination – but because of the colour.

It’s navy blue! This is the cue for me to set off a dazzling display of fireworks and cartwheel along Oxford Street.

Navy blue is the best of all colours. It just is. Of course, I love black, it’s ultra chic and slimming, but the minute the sun comes out – even on a cold day – you feel like a Sicilian widow. Or a Suzi Quatro wannabe. Or a goth.

Also, as the days turn into weeks turn into years and your face is looking less like a pert bagel and more like a collapsed bap (an image I got from my daughter, who wouldn’t eat her soft white roll the other day because, she said, it looked like grandma…), black gets harder to wear.

It drains you and draws cruel attention to the sag harbour of your jaw line. And it makes your make up look more make up-y.

Navy blue, on the other hand, has all the slimming optical illusion of black, without the down side. It’s like a warm version of black. And on top of those benefits, it looks simply wonderful with denim. Dark denim, of course, which is really navy blue denim. Hurray! Life is beautiful!

I think there are very few things which aren’t improved by being navy in colour (and I have interspersed pictures of some of my favourites), but give me in particular, a well-cut pair of super dark denim straight legs (not skinnies, cigarette shape) and a navy blue T shirt/cardie combo (cotton for spring, cashmere for winter) and I am completely happy. It’s so lengthening, you’re just one long column of navy blue.

All you need to lay over it is a bit of a feature scarf, maybe a necklace. Some great earrings. And killer shoes.

These can be anthing from Louboutin/Balenciaga/Louis Vuitton style bonkers shoes (I don’t own any of the actual above, I buy the brilliant Topshop tributes…), to my brilliant Timberland wedge deck shoes. Hunter wellies. Or even lemon yellow Havaianas, as I was wearing today.

Because navy provides such a fabulous popping backdrop for other colours. I hate black with bright colours, the clash is too harsh and obvious, but navy is enhanced by it.

My favourite summer tote is a bright orange canvas take on a game bag. Looks bloody marvellous with navy. Apple green and fuschia pink are also divine with it.

Red, I’m a little more wary of. Mixed with navy it can easily become a bit natty bandbox smart. But just a hint of it is very Riviera (especially with a stripe somewhere in the mix). I have some red wedge espadrilles that fit that box perfectly.

But here’s another wonderful navy colour combo you might not be so familiar with: navy with black. Ooh! Sharp intake of breath! So naughty, so chic, it’s one of my absolute favourites.

I had this Pauline conversion one cold early evening in Milan, leaving the Burberry show in the Duomo square, when I saw one of my favourite New York fashion editors (don’t know her name, not one of the famous ones) winding a navy blue pashmina around the neck of her black jacket.

She was wearing black jeans, black high-heeled boots, black bag and then this navy blue pashmina. Gee-nee-us. I bought one the moment I got back to London and out it comes every winter, just to take the edge of a black coat, tights and shoe combo, without going anywhere near the colour-me-beautiful pashmina thing which is so 1995.

So that’s all the good things about navy, here’s the rub: there just isn’t enough of it about. That’s why I got so excited when I saw the Vivienne Westwood dress. Navy dresses barely exist. They’re the unicorns of fashion.

But even in more everyday pieces my favourite colour can be hard to find. It drives me nuts how often I see great basics that come in every flipping colour except navy. I confess that when my daughter was a baby I often dressed her in boys’ clothes so she could wear navy.

So I was thrilled to open a Land’s End catalogue recently and find they now do all their staples in what looks like a really nice dark shade. From a company that used to torture me with useful things available only in jade and fuschia, this is a major breakthrough.

I’ve ordered this cardigan and I’ll report back.

Or you could have it in this colour….. No thank you. No contest.

All gloved up

In Accessories, Shopping on February 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm

It’s that time of year again – the ready-to-wear shows have just kicked off in New York – and it always makes me nostalgic for my days at the fashion frontline. So this is a Saturday archives special from 2002, which reminds me of one of the reasons I must go back to Milan one day soon. The other being the food…

Dita gives great glove.

One of the greatest pleasures of going to Milan twice a year for the fashion shows is the shopping. But I don’t mean Prada and Gucci – you can do that anywhere – I’m talking about the specialist shops.

On a frosty morning in March, I was fitted with a pair of new kid gloves in a specialist ganteria in Milan and it really was an extraordinary privilege. I don’t think I’ve experienced service like it since I was measured for my first pair of Start Rite school shoes.

I felt the presence of Charles Swann – or at least his creator, Marcel Proust – at my side, as the glove-eur, or whatever you call a master glove fitter, assessed my peasanty paw by eye and produced a selection of gloves of exactly the right size. He fanned them out on the counter in one perfect sweep like a Monte Carlo croupier.

Once I had chosen my preferred glove – black kid, unlined – he stretched them using one of those mystery-object glove stretchers and much flamboyant snapping and slapping, that only an Italian could carry off. He then showed me how to place my elbow on the counter with my hand pointing straight up with yogic precision for the grand fitting of the glove.

Then he didn’t simply put that glove on my waiting limb – he ravished it. My hand felt taken by that glove. Hhe fitted each finger with a vigorous smoothing motion, so reminiscent of condom application it was hard not to dissolve into giggles. But I didn’t because I was so awed by the perfect tight fit of my new gloves. Six months later, they still fit with a glossy skin hugging tautness that would delight the Marquis de Sade. Venus in gloves.

On another visit to Milan I had a similar experience (although not quite so pervy) at a sock-eria. Although it had a chich modern interior, it was as far removed from our own sad sock shops as Rockpool Bar and Grill is from Burger King, and it was staffed by women who were sizing experts equal to Signor Glove.

They took one look at my stubby little foot and declared me an ‘otto’. So while my shoe size may be 36, in Italian, my sock size is eight. And it absolutely is, the socks fitted me perfectly.

But the size was just one part of the socking process. There were three weights of wool to choose from, from a stocking-like fine denier, through to a chunky rib and various mixes of wool, cashmere, cotton and silk. There was also the length to consider – to the ankle, the knee, or the cheeky thigh – and finally, the colour.

And what colours! Apart from the obvious black and very dark navy, there were camels, maroons and various shades of grey and green, before you even got into the fun colours and the ones with contrast toes and heels.

Apart from the wonderful selection – and bear in mind that these are socks totally devoid of those terrible circulation-stopping elastic tops – the real joy was the sincere concern and interest of the sockinistas at every stage. We lived through it together, they took great pride in their expertise, and at the end, they seemed as pleased as I was with the result. It’s a good job we got on, as they now have a customer for life.

So that is gloves and socks sorted, but my latest discovery is a specialist slipper shop. It had every kind of indoor footwear from the luxurious pig skin flats, to the funky Scandinavian felt, via all imaginable variations of sheepskin moccasin and fluffy mistress mule – and a resident expert slipper-ista sista just waiting to help me with my Cinderella selection.

I had shopping fatigue when I found it, not to mention a bag full of expensive socks, so I didn’t feel up to another intense consultation. But come October, I’m headed straight there to find out what my slipper size is.

Dita gloved up again at the couture shows. Does anyone know who the other babe is?

Serendipity doo dah

In Shopping on January 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm


I have always adored those Vogue articles (mainly in British and US editions) where very rich women talk with great seriousness about how they ‘plan’ their wardrobes for each season and which ‘pieces’ they will be buying for the next one.

I enjoy them on several levels. One is pure amusement. How seriously they take it all. I love clothes, mad about them – that should be obvious to everyone by now – but I find really caring about ‘fashion’ hilarious.

On another level I find those articles very comforting. I love it when anyone else is organised and sorted out about things, even if they are a skinny numbskull married to a mammon-worshipping hedge funder. Somehow it makes me feel like the tide of chaos I constantly fear is about to engulf me can be held at bay a little longer.

Even though Iolanthe’s close relationship with the manageress of the Lanvin boutique has absolutely no impact on my life, knowing that this bond of trust will ensure she gets the sleeveless jacket and 80s fluoro which are so speaking to her this season.

It’s the same comfort so many of us find in stationery shops, hardware stores and haberdashers. Just having a sense of the potential of being organised can help us to endure the random ratshittery of real life.

But while I’m in awe of people who can marshal their seasonal wardrobes according to an organised plan, with regard to my own garb, I find serendipity my best ally. Some of my all-time favourite things have come into my life entirely by fluke.

And I don’t just mean I happened to be walking past the junk shop that had in it my fake leopardskin car coat (the nylons it’s made from lived full lives and were humanely killed…), although that was the most marvellous bit of luck.

But it wasn’t true chance, because I’ll always stop for leopardskin. Along with navy cardigans, dark denim and black dresses, that’s a given, my default shopping settings. The magic of shopping serendipity is when chance makes you stop to consider an item you never would have glanced at in a shop, let along gone looking for.

Some of my best bits have been random hand ons from friends, like the amazing black velvet 1930s dressing gown – a great evening look – I unearthed in a bag of tat my BFF gave me to look through before she took it to a charity shop. She said she’d never worn it. It’s one of my most-treasured things. Could have been tailored for me.

Other serendipitous finds were reader offers in magazines I’ve worked on. I’d never have looked at them in a shop, but when the samples came in to the office I tried them on for larks. We all did.

I still have and wear a dark brown suede leather shirt we had as an offer when I was editor of British ELLE twenty flipping years ago. It has never dated. Likewise a shiny black PVC trench coat from the same fossil era.

Back in those days I was also at liberty to keep the very personal gifts – i.e. shameless product placement bribes – sent to me by the major designers. Oh the handbags they gave me… I still use them all. A sensational alpaca swing coat given to me by Milan label Genny in 1989 is still my choice for a black-tie cover up on cold nights.

Those luxurious magazine editor days are long gone, but I still find chance a more reliable personal shopper than planning.

One of the first laws of shopping I ever learned was that the best way to come home empty handed is to set out with a specific item in mind. If you do find it, they won’t have your size. Worse, you will buy a nearly nice compromise which you will always hate for not being what you really wanted.

When I forget this and get sucked into studying magazine shopping sections and tearing out pages with top items, they’re always sold out before I can even get on line (like Clark’s high-heeled desert boots back in September). Or I get to the shop before the thing’s come in and can’t sustain the interest to go back for another try two weeks later.

So my advice is to bin your lists, tear up the pages torn from fashion magazines, and open yourself up to shopping serendipity.

Born to shop

In Shopping on December 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Maybe a lobotomy would do it. That might be the only way to curb my insatiable enjoyment of the act of shopping, if the scientists who are researching genetic predispositions to love – or to loathe – spending money are right.

I read about the research in an article by my esteemed former colleague Fenella Souter (the person who had the idea that I might have a go at writing these columns twelve years ago…) and I’ve been obsessing on it ever since.

The feature, which I did of course tear out to file for future use and immediately lost, centred on an Australian couple whose life’s work it is not to spend money. By following a disciplined regime and pre-planning, they maintain themselves and their three children on a weekly budget that would just about cover my toiletries spend.

They would never, for example, leave the house without a damp cloth in a plastic bag and be forced to buy their toddler a new top after a food spill, as some mothers have been known to do (*whistles innocently*).

They’ve made a business out of such sensible habits, with a website of money-saving tips which is enthusiastically embraced by many thousands of people who feel as they do about parting with cash. Horrified.

There’s a similar phenomenon in the UK with Martin Lewis, of Martin’s Money Tips, becoming something of a daytime TV celebrity, with his excited updates of money-off vouchers for Burgerking, 40% off at Matalan and three-for-two deals at Legoland. Barely a day goes by that I don’t delete one of his newsletters from my Inbox.

But it seems I’m wrong to see such penny pinching as a Scrooge meanness of spirit when it is, according to the scientists in Fenella’s article (who I cannot find on Google despite all my best efforts), a genetically determined setting.

So that friend who always seems to disappear off to the loo when it’s their turn to get a round in, and excitedly haunts the reduced section of dented, sell-by date achieved goods at the back of the supermarket, may actually find it emotionally challenging to part with money. Painful.

Then there are people like me who bloody love it.

Even apart from the simple base appeal of wanting stuff (see previous post, Inspector Gadget), I have come to understand that I get a bit of a hit at the moment of handing over the moola.

It’s a bit of a risky thrill, which is presumably why some people get clinically addicted to it. And shopping is, in it’s way, a form of gambling, isn’t it? The odds I’ll ever wear that polka dot vintage dress that was a last-minute impulse buy at the Sydney Antiques Centre? About 7 to 1.

And during this annual period of particularly intense and focussed shopping, I’ve realised I also really adore the lead up to the purchase moment.

I relish the planning of the expedition – preparing a list, researching the sources, setting off – then the active part, making choices, and finally best of all, carrying home the loot, gives me a sense of satisfaction unmatched by almost any other activity. I really feel I’ve achieved something. Job done.

Presumably this is exactly how the Scrimpers feel when they push their way through the Legoland turnstile, munching on their bargain burgers, sparks flying from their Matalan outfits. Wallets still well stuffed.

Most pleasingly, both genetic settings make sense according to my long-held Darwinist theory of shopping. Spenders like me, who get pleasure from searching for and acquiring stuff, are descended from the most successful gatherers of the hunter gatherer period.

Our antecedents survived because they were the ones most skilled at locating and collecting the choice nuts and berries. So I can only assume that the Scrimpers come from the line of prime hoarders, the guardians of the clan’s food store, who hated parting with it and always had some stashed away when the pickings were thin.

Now I know it’s biological, I can see the merit in both mindsets. And with the money I’ve saved on the lobotomy, I’m off to buy a new gadget.

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