Top men’s winter coats: Rick Edwards on style

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Winter coats

 

I have a confession to make. As I was sitting at my laptop, thinking about how much pesky Christmas shopping I had to cram in this week, I entertained the idea of some serious self-plagiarism. Now as plagiarism goes, copying yourself is not the worst. So I checked back to see when I last wrote about winter coats. It was more than two years ago. I could hardly remember it. Would anyone else? I don’t think my words tend to have a lasting impact on people. Consequently I came very close indeed to doing a wholesale facsimile of that article. But I stopped myself. Why? Because I have too much respect for you.

So this is a brand-new column about coats. Promise. Now, it is clearly cold out. On average, five people a day tell me how cold it is (“Sooo cold”). Maybe I look like someone who doesn’t notice the cold, or has such high-functioning homeostatic systems that I literally don’t feel it. That is not the case. Therefore I have been looking at my coat options very carefully. As I referenced two years ago (guys?), I have far too many. And I’m looking to streamline. I’m finally starting to realise that a few well-chosen items are better than a plethora of middling ones. Conclusion: I need just three warm coats.

1) The Outside-All-Bloody-Day Coat

This needs to be like a great big body oven. In fact I find it weird that no outerwear labels are using that as a tagline. I draw the line at a knee-length puffa jacket, but the down-filled parka gets the job done while looking quite respectable. Although, given its bulk, if you have skinny pins and/or are wearing narrow jeans or trousers, you will look like an egg on legs. That’s fair warning.

2) The Off-To-A-Smart-Do Coat

In all likelihood I’m going to be wearing this one over a suit. A trench coat will not be providing the requisite warmth – even if you keep that detachable lining in. A woollen overcoat (clue’s in the name) is the answer. You can’t go wrong with a charcoal-grey one. That will look good over any colour. Add a faux-fur collar if you like and it will give you the air of a man who would poison someone in a hotel bar. That’s not for everyone, but I like it.

3) The Casual-On-Off-On Coat

This is your everyday coat. My old staple has always been a Barbour. You know where you are in a Barbour. I realise that wearing one in a city is slightly akin to driving your snotty kids around Mayfair in a Land Rover, but I don’t care. They’re great coats. Recently I’ve also acquired a brilliant bomber jacket – only problem is, my rear gets a bit cold (I should stop wearing it with bottomless chaps, I know).

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Are men afraid of dressing well?

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David Cameron, Ed Miliband etc - Grey Fox power dressing blog

 

The power of style is illustrated, perversely, by the fact that it’s the fear of dressing well that drives many men to be slobs. So powerful is the fear of being ostracised for taking an interest in clothes, that they simply don’t bother. There is a feeling, possibly stronger in the US than in Europe, that the man who spends time on his appearance is somehow emasculated; his sexuality is suspect and he might even be interested in arts and culture, rather than football and drinking.

A portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill standing by a row of book shelves.

 

The man who subscribes to this view condemns himself as a loser in society because he spurns the best means of making a high-impact statement about himself. Why do politicians, heads of state and leaders in commerce look well-groomed? On the other hand, why are those who lose out in society generally illustrated as shabby, down-at-heel and dirty?

The reality is that dressing well helps us in our personal, family and business lives – making us more attractive to employers, strangers and potential lovers. It reflects self-confidence and success.

Style needn’t be costly, so there is little excuse not to bother. However, standards of dress are generally low. Spend a few moments looking at people passing by. The overuse of sportswear, ill-fitting and poorly designed clothes worn by people who do not look after themselves suggests a loss of self-respect. We can’t be bothered, fear being criticised for trying too hard, are unaware of the power of presenting ourselves well, or simply don’t have the skills to achieve style. Retailers peddling cheap and badly made clothes, totally lacking in style, add to the problem.

grey_fox_ed__1040715

 

More positively, things are slowly changing. Men are taking greater care of their appearance and classic styles remain popular, providing an alternative to ugly and ephemeral trends. I am a symptom of this change. Two years ago I didn’t bother much. I recognise that the road to style isn’t always easy, but things that demand effort that are worth doing. With style comes self-respect and increased respect for others.

Fashion and style may seem unimportant, but history suggests otherwise – since man started to wrap himself in skins, there has been a divide between those who care and those who don’t.

Fashion: why I like breaking the rules

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Frocks & Frou Frou: Rule breaker

 

I am a rule-breaker.

I am a pleasant, usually obedient, responsible, law-abiding citizen. I pay my taxes, obey the speed limit (mostly) and I don’t take seven things into the six-items-or-less checkout line at the supermarket.

But I hate, hate, HATE plus-size fashion rules.

A few years ago I was interviewed for an Australian women’s magazine, and I was infuriated when I discovered that they’d put my name on a list of fashion dos and don’ts because anyone who knows anything about me knows that I only have one fashion don’t: don’t listen to plus-size fashion dos and don’ts.

I know they’re out there. They include “rules” like: “Don’t wear horizontal stripes” and “Don’t wear tight fitting clothes” and “Don’t wear skinny jeans”. If the wowzers at the Plus Size Fashion Police Academy (I’m assuming there is one of these, and that any minute now I’ll be getting a cease-and-desist letter from them) had their way every women over a size 14 would be wearing shapeless, black muumuus designed to cleverly disguise their bulk. Presumably by making them indistinguishable from the night sky.

I read an interview recently with plus-size brand 17 Sundays who, when asked about “dressing for your shape” replied:

We don’t really subscribe to dressing for your body shape. […] if you feel amazing in an outfit, if you feel bulletproof and sexy then it’s the right look for you.

This is my credo. I don’t even really care about things being flattering, since flattering in plus-size-fashion-parlance usually means “slimming”, and that usually means boring. And black.

I like colour. I like patterns. I like attracting attention on the street with bright dresses and eye-catching accessories. And I like horizontal stripes A LOT.

This is a personal opinion, and I know plenty of people who shudder at the thought of donning a full skirt over full hips, or a high-necked top over big boobs, or – God forbid – skinny jeans and ballet flats. That’s their prerogative. It’s mine to decide what I want to adorn my own body with; I choose clothes that make me happy. And that’s why I’m a rule breaker.

Today I’m wearing pale pink trousers cropped at the ankle, with ballet flats and a high-necked, horizontally striped top. Everything fits snug on my body, so there’s no disguising my full thighs, thicker waist, and impressive prow. My outfit would definitely land me in Plus-Size Fashion Prison, if all those silly arbitrary rules were enforced.

Can harnessing algae’s natural goodness keep our skin fresh?

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Pythomer products

 

Last week, continuing my theme of self-education, I ventured out of the UK on a press trip. My heart doesn’t leap at the prospect of a press trip but it’s the best way to satisfy this sceptic’s curiosity and it does at least allow me to ask disobliging questions about science, testing and marketing puff. There are two reasons I accepted this invitation: first, it was from 40-year-old French skincare brand Phytomer and I have always believed the French know what’s what in that area; second, the brand is all about marine products and algae.

I can’t help but theorise that as our oceans are the cradle of life, it naturally follows that they should be the cradle of a great many other things too. Lots of good stuff comes out of our blue healing seas and it’s usually horribly expensive – Crème de la Mer, for example, and the mysterious kelp-based “Miracle Broth”. The problem I have with Crème de la Mer (owned by Estée Lauder) is that it’s a bit light on the science and that’s what I want to know about. Give me good science and I’m happy. I also want something a bit more concrete than “harvested sustainably” when the principle ingredient is hauled out of a notoriously fragile ecosystem twice a year. So, with my Guardian credentials fluttering proudly from my Invisible Woman mast, I set off for Brittany and a tour of the Phytomer Research and Development Laboratories.

A proper laboratory means togging up in overalls, which certainly puts you in the right frame of mind for microscopes and gently gyratingErlenmeyer flasks. The thing about algae is that although it doesn’t look as though it does much, it’s developed its own personal systems to protect against pollution, UV light and physical damage and we can learn from that. And algae bursts with the stuff our own skins need to do the same.

At this point I began to worry about algae and ecosystems but the thoughtful people at Phytomer are able to grow and farm their own algae in a controlled environment so once they have a species growing in their laboratories they no longer have to collect it from the sea. Watching fluffy little pompoms of red algae happily bobbing up and down in a giant tube of purified water is a memory I will cherish even if it did mean I had to wear a hairnet to see it. Do you worry about testing? So do I, but here it’s dealt with in a meticulous and thoughtful way, carried out in stages first in the laboratories on actual human skin and then going out to teams of volunteers for live testing.

So what’s this stuff like? During our short visit we got to try out a few things (of course). As the oldest in the group by a good 25 years and having spent a good few hours being mishandled by a well-known budget airline, I confidently anticipated being what you might call a “hard sell”. There was, however, a wonderfully good facial, which left my skin feeling the cleanest it has for a very long time and, best of all, it was carried out without a hint of a gamelan or singing whale, just skilled and efficient professional treatment with no daft gizmos. Much like the products themselves.

Pythomer laboratory

 

‘m having a go myself with some samples of the latest thing – Pionnière XMF – and I’ll let you know how I get on. I believe in giving things a fair crack before passing judgment. The initial signs are encouraging though: I find I only need to use a little and it does feel beautiful on the skin. It’sexpensive but I’m inclined to agree with Hadley Freeman that with moisturisers you largely get what you pay for. The rest of the range is well-priced and affordable – certainly on a par with my long-term French favourite, Caudalie, whose products are based on grape seed.

There was only one thing about the trip that niggled the 1970s feminist in me and that was having a bunch of male scientists tell a group of intelligent female journalists what women need for their skin. That, to me, seemed faintly ridiculous but then it had been a very early start and I was feeling a bit middle-aged by then.

What I did like, and liked a lot, was the care, thought and hard work that had gone into producing an ecologically sound, sustainable and high-quality natural product with a tiddly carbon footprint, minimal waste and a determination to preserve the local environment from which it comes. The last note from my visit reads: “Water purified through reed beds – big tick.”

Fashion by numbers: Marc Jacobs spring/summer 13

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MJA_460px_numbers-02

 

1 Headshot

It’s a heavy, sweeping fringe with Edie Sedgwick eyes and a power-brow.

2 Through the keyhole

I say 1960s beatnik – Jacobs refuted such obvious inspiration. Bare skin, however, was a prominent and recurrent theme, with enough flashes of buttock to sink a battleship. Critics heralded it as the return of sex to the catwalk, yet it was an exploration of all things optical, such as this keyhole design, that Jacobs was primarily consumed with. Illusion created by geometric shape was the central, encompassing vision for this collection.

3 And the stripes?

Coming to that now, silly. You see sometimes new trends are quiet, sly little things that sneak up on you slowly. At other times, they’re about as subtle as a sledgehammer. The monochrome stripe spread quicker than norovirus this year, with the high street cashing in on its wearability, and lines have become our go-to look for work and play.

4 Bag

See previous point on stripes, above.

5 Shoes

Black flats with a thin bow and a toe so pointy-sharp it could severe cold butter. You’ve got a wardrobe full of ballet pumps? Bad luck.

Sum total

A collection of Ss: the 60s, Sedgwick, stripes and sex. Yet while many praised Jacobs for bringing sexy back, I’m not sure the carnal references weren’t more of a subplot. More intriguingly, for a designer known for pushing the weird and wacky, this was disciplined, almost to the extent that you could hear Jacobs humming along to Queen’s One Vision. Here was a designer urging us to toe his (fashion) line. Which we promptly did.

when fashion is freedom to dress as a fried egg

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Katy Perry dressed as an egg

 

My interest in costume and culture arose as an extension of my research at the University of Hertfordshire, where I have been a contextual studies lecturer since 2004. A key source of interest for me is that studies infashion frequently draw upon issues of identity. Identity is fluid, and dressing is a matter of identity construction. Clothing is the means by which we create and express our sense of self. The wearing of clothes provides us with an opportunity to transform ourselves: to appear smarter, thinner, cuter, richer, more mysterious.

While many clothes announce our identity, others replace it with one that is false or incomplete [1]. This separation of costume and self is a theme that runs throughout my blog. As posts have show, clothing can be viewed as a mask. It conceals the reality of the body beneath.

Christie Davies [2] has proposed that costume can provide a “shield from one’s own morality”. It becomes a vital tool in de-individuation by “removing personal identification”, and consequently also removes “personal responsibility”. In the notorious masquerade balls of the 18th century, the mask enabled escape from moral integrity [3]. For children in Halloween costume, it absolves them of responsibility for their mischief.

There are costumes that move beyond de-individuation to dehumanization, removing not only personal identity but also its most basic components – those that make us human. These are costumes modelled on inanimate objects, which strip the wearer of “humanness”. Dressed as inanimate objects, I’ve seen a couple wearing white decide to interlock in imitation of a plug and socket and teenage friends wrapped in rainbow colours line up like a row of Crayola crayons. Here, Katy Perrypresents herself onstage as a fried egg.

Katy Perry celebrates her 24th birthday by dressing like an angeled egg

 

We can also find references to inanimate objects in surrealist fashion. However, there is an important distinction to be made between garments that feature objects as ornamentation, and those that fully adopt an inanimate identity. Alexander McQueen’s skull-print scarf did not present the wearer as a skeleton. Agatha Ruiz de la Prada comes closer to objectifying her catwalk models. Her autumn/winter collection featured a garment in the shape of a durian.

Agatha Ruiz De La Prada: Milan Fashion Week Womenswear A/W 2009 - Runway

 

In these costumes, wearers are dehumanised; apparently stripped of elements of human identity. Inanimate objects have no self-awareness or self-expression. This is perhaps what makes such costumes liberating. Humanity carries with it huge risks and responsibilities. If we have personality, we are at risk of being disliked. If we have free will, we risk making the wrong choices. By temporarily escaping our human identity we also escape the burden of responsibility that being human entails. While we are in costume, we are unaccountable for our actions. Dressed as an egg, Kerry Perry can be as silly as she likes. She is free to defy expectations.

Beauty: cheek sticks

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Sali Hughes with Revlon Baby Stick

 

Few makeup items are as much fun as a blusher stick. There’s something satisfyingly infantile about smearing colour on your cheeks with what is essentially an oversized bingo marker. It gives a pretty glow that looks more carefree than powder blush, a little less “done”. It’s my default cheek colour for weekends, when I want to look nice but not like some lunatic alpha mum made up to the nines for the climbing wall. Application is kids’ stuff, too.

Many women avoid cream blusher because they think it’ll cause spots, but this doesn’t happen much. What is more likely is that it fades fast, making mid-day reapplication necessary. There are ways around this. I ignore accepted wisdom that cream blush goes under powder. Instead, I put on face powder first to give a matt, non-slippery base – it helps grip the colour and means the finished blush looks dewy, not dulled down through a gauze. Then I take my stick and dab directly on to the apples (the fat bits) of the cheeks. The round tip is your friend here, because all you need do then is blur the edge of the circle with your middle finger, feathering it outwards.

There are heaps of blusher sticks out for summer. Here are my favourite six.

Benefit Fine-One-One Sheer Brightening Colour for Cheeks & Lips, £23.50, benefit cosmetics.co.uk
I didn’t expect to like this, but it’s very pretty on. Perfect, peachy-pink colour.

Topshop Edit Blush Stick, £10, selfridges.com
The pink gives you a slightly rude, post-coital glow. Orange looks extremely cool with a tan or on black skins.

Revlon Baby Stick, £6.99, boots.com
A cute, fat stick of creamy, subtle colour. I like Tahitian, a candy-floss pink for a very casual perkiness.

Bobbi Brown Sheer Color Cheek Tint, £18, bobbibrown.co.uk 
Sunlit Nude and Nude Beach give black skins a gorgeous depth. Summer Pink is for all skin colours; Sheer Pink for pales.

Wild About Beauty Ultra Dewy Crème Blush in Fifi, £17, houseoffraser.co.uk
Lovely, moist finish. The subtle colour makes everyone look better.

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