Belfast-based, style loving mum of 3. Fashion, Lifestyle, Food & Fitness

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Thoughts on Marks & Spencer

Since my last post about the tassel boots, I made a point of going to visit M&S to try on (see the video here!) but I also wanted to challenge myself to have a proper look around the store in case I was being unfair in my assessment of them in that last post. You see, apart from underwear/PJ's and some jersey basics, I've not bought anything to write home about in M&S in the past year. Will SS16 be a season to remember - for all the right reasons?

As I made my way into the Sprucefield store, I remembered that it's the size of their stores that is part of the problem. It's overwhelming - even for a seasoned shopper like me.
Immediately on my right, I had Autograph, which is always worth a look. On the opposite side of the store, it's Limited Edition. In between these two brands, there's Per Una and Indigo...two brands that I can no longer bring myself to look at. Too many patterns! Oh and not forgetting M&S Collection, Classic and Twiggy. Exhausting!

I started with Autograph and admittedly, spotted some gorgeous classic, structured pieces like this coat:
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Monday, 18 January 2016

Tassel Boot Obsession

For the past few weeks, I keep seeing, trying on and thinking about high heeled tassel boots. Deep, I know but I promise I've been thinking about other more important things at the same time. But then I get sidelined by images like this on Instagram.....
and suddenly, I *need* a pair in my life. My hesitation (apart from the heel height!) include...will I look and sound ridiculous as I strut about in them? Will people hear me before they see me as my tassels dance about with every step? Will they knot up in each other and make me trip? (has happened to me before with some laced heels - in a crowded pub....mortified)

Before I ponder these shoe issues, here are some of the tasselled lovelies that are teasing me, starting with the ones that are in the picture above - from Daniel Footwear.
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Saturday, 16 January 2016

A few outfits & what I've been up to.....

So how did we end up at Saturday night again? That week seems to have flown in and I've not posted a thing about what I've been getting up to or wearing. Time to remedy that...here's what my week was like:

Monday saw me housebound during the day because of a poorly son, so I got on with housework and shop orders while he lay about feeling miserable. Choir that evening was a welcome break from the house - first rehearsal since before Christmas so it was great to see everyone again.
I wore this in the early part of the day but had to change at dinner-time thanks to a spag bol related incident :)
Navy top - Boden
Checked Scarf & Khaki Jeans - Deja Vu, Belfast
Navy Ankle Boots - Ash Jalouse (similar navy boots here in the sale)

Tuesday is gym day for me - Body Pump is the only reason I go. I will never be a gym bunny but I've been doing the same class every week since about September and the difference in my shape has been such a motivator, especially how well it's toned up my arms and shoulders areas. It's a tough class but I don't dread it....focussing on the coffee you're going to have afterwards always helps! After the gym, it was a cashmere and coated jeans day - gave my Topshop Joni Jeans an outing...
Cashmere Jumper - random brand via TK Maxx (similar here & here)
Black Coated Skinny Jeans - Topshop Joni
Tan Suede Ankle Boots - Mango (similar here)
Aztec patterned scarf - Accessorize (past season)

Wednesday, I had a couple of meetings about existing work and coffee with a potential new client. After those, I was a model for friend of a friend who's training to be a hairdresser (at Vintage Hair in Elmwood Avenue) and needed someone with a bob to work on. She did an amazing job - my hair is still sitting great as I type - more than 3 days later. The reason I didn't get a photo on Wednesday is that I went straight from the hair appointment to the school run and then had to leave the girls with my husband to go to the doctors to have a mole type thing removed from my abdomen. Nothing sinister but the GP wanted to scalpel it off under a local. It was a quick procedure and I was back home within the hour....but it meant the day was gone before I knew it!

Thursday was my running day but as the wound was feeling a bit sore, my running buddy and I decided to go for a long walk instead...which ended up being a 1.5 hour walk up (and back down) Cavehill. It's my favourite long walk in Belfast and the bonus was that there was snow at the top!
Afterwards, I did the school run in this:
Coat - Selected Femme (past season - similar here & here)
Jeans - Kings of Indigo via TK Maxx
Boots - Seven Boot Lane (past season - similar here)
Checked Blanket Scarf - H&M (past season - similar here & here)
Jumper - as above

Friday saw the snow reach lower levels...time to wrap up!
Grey Padded Jacket - Dunnes Stores (past season - similar here in the sale)
Distressed Jeans - Gap Outlet
Grey Off-Duty Merino Jumper - Boden past season
Grey & Navy Snood - TK Maxx (similar colour way here)
Navy Bobble hat - Dunnes Stores

It was a mixed day of working from home, taking delivery of a new washing machine (and immediately doing 3 loads that had accumulated!) and doing the grocery shop - which takes SO much longer and costs SO much more when you have to do it in-store. Definitely will be online organised next week.

Finishing with Saturday...all the rugby and hockey was cancelled because of the bad weather so I took the opportunity to go to another Body Pump class....must be mad but I was up early and my husband was at home so it was a good chance to escape. I then took another bout of the head staggers and made a batch of scones which we all devoured and basically, that cancelled out all the good of the gym! The afternoon saw us down at the MOT centre - all the glamour....here's what I wore:

Scarf - Miss Selfridge
Cashmere Beanie - TK Maxx (similar here in black - sale!)
Grey Wool Coat - Mango (similar in sales here & here)
Black Wool Skirt - Marc Cain (similar here)
Grey Oversized Top - River Island
Boots - Mango (similar here & here)

And I'm in on a Saturday night writing this post....rock n roll....but where would you rather be on a cold night in January?

Ok - bed is calling my weary body...I hope you've had a good week and that you're enjoying the weekend. Oh my Hush Alice dress (from my last post) arrived but it's too big. Hoping to change for a smaller size if the M or S comes back into stock.

Have a good Sunday!

AX


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Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Scarf Tying Tutorial - The ONLY way tie your scarf...

...in my humble opinion, that is!

I'm asked constantly about how I tie my scarves - pretty much every time I put a picture where I'm wearing a scarf on Instagram or Facebook. But I'm a shy type and have always steered clear of video.

In the past, I've shared some of the videos that are most popular online like Wendy's 25 ways to tie a scarf but while this video is amazing and so well produced and edited, I don't believe that any of us need 25 ways to tie our scarves. I also think so many of the options are complicated and a bit over worked. And most are suited to a particular type of scarf only.

The most gorgeous looks on Pinterest and Instagram have an effortless air about them and that needs to include how your scarf is tied. It needs to look like you just 'threw it on'. So how to achieve this look?

Well, here goes....my first (and probably last) video. Be gentle with me....it took WAY too much of my day yesterday and I am slightly traumatised at now having a presence on YouTube. I also dithered over calling it the ONLY way or the ONE way....so it's got a bit of both thanks to the technology getting the better of me.
Having said all that, I hope you enjoy it and find it useful....oh and remember the key to great scarf tying - start with a corner!


Ax
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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The last sale update...I promise!

It's just that Hush has gone to up to 70% off and I'm seriously tempted to try out a few pieces - strictly for research (of course!). First up, the Alice dress has always appealed and it's now down to just £25. Reviews say to size up. I think this will look fab with black leggings and my over the knee boots, layered over a long sleeved white top..all topped off with a big scarf..
Hush Alice Dress in Grey - £25 (from £49)
I'm loving these boucle skirts too and was thinking about ordering the burgundy:
Hush Boucle Mini Skirt - £30 (from £50)
But I also like the look of this burgundy skirt - gets amazing reviews....
Modal Ruched Skirt - £30 (from £40)
I've seen lots of my blogger friends rave about the Nina Cardigan and I'd love it in the camel though I'm not sure I need another long cardigan in my life...
Hush Nina Cardi in Camel - £60 (from £90)
And the Nessa cardigan has also had lots of online acclaim and is really well reduced:
Hush Nessa Cardi - £65 (from £110)
This scarf says it's for men but I'm not sure why? It's fab and full at 200cm x 70cm and is 100% Cashmere in a gorgeous shade of grey. Amazing investment piece at almost half price:
Men's Cashmere Scarf - £60 (from £110)
and wouldn't it look great with the classic Hush jersey blazer - really great charcoal colour way..
Hush Winter Shawl Blazer - £30 (from £59)
Finally, I can't speak highly enough of my Laura top - it's just been a great basic since I got it back in September. It's warm enough to wear now with a chunky cardigan or a coat but it will work equally well in warmer weather. Just a fab wardrobe staple - limited sizes left:
Hush Laura Top in Ecru - £25 (from £40)

So much more I would order if finances allowed but they don't so I've just ordered one of the above items. I will report back...if I keep it!

Ax

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Monday, 11 January 2016

Sales try-on #2 - Boden, Topshop & the rest...

Well the good news is that I got on better with what I ordered from Boden, Topshop & ASOS. Which just goes to show you how unpredictable online shopping can be and which turns out to be ok because after much deliberation, I ended up returning ALL my Zara items (apart from the irregular jumpers), making my total Zara expenditure just £25.98 and therefore the Christmas money was mostly unspent.

For the record, the girl who processed my returns in the Belfast Zara store was not full of the customer love, making me stand for around 15 minutes while she painstakingly retagged & rehung every item. Very slowly...all while having various conversations with her co-workers. Frustrating as the store was quiet with plenty of staff milling about who could have helped her to process it all a LOT faster. I'd purposely come in early and only had an hour on the parking meter. I was tempted to suggest that I go for a little browse while she took her time processing it all! I worked in retail for many years and stores (even the mighty Zara) can't get stroppy about returns. It's all part of the customer service experience and the consequence of my experience today is that I left without browsing and purchasing more...and now I've blogged about it too! 

Compare that to the experience returning to Topshop a few minutes later? Completely different. Absolutely charming girl on the till and the return only took minutes....meaning I got back to the car just in time.

I digress.....let's get on with the second of my sales try on posts and you'll remember from this post the items I fell for in Boden. First up - my most favourite item...the Katie Jumper:
Just love this - the shape, the colours, everything about it....I don't really like jumpers as they so often have a clingy waist band but this one doesn't...it's loose fit with a slightly longer hem at the back. EXCEPT....when I took it off and looked at the label and saw it's dry clean only. FGS Boden?! No mum has time to dry clean a jumper?! I know it was clear on the online description but I never even thought for a minute to read through the care information. Sadly, I only realised this once it had been worn so I'm stuck with it now. Interestingly, the care label also says 'reshape while damp' so I'm confused and reckon I could hand wash it. What do you think? It's just merino wool at the end of the day. Size-wise, I got the 10 (as the comments said to size down) and it fits perfectly. 

Next, the Zoe Coat in navy (sold out online but watch for returns!) which I had the lowest hopes for but I really like it too! The material is so soft - I immediately checked the label to see if there was cashmere in the mix (there's not). I really like the oversized shape of it and the fact that it looks good open and closed. With the extra 10% off, it's a great coat for the price so I'm keeping it. 
I ordered the M as there were no S left in stock. It's the kind of oversized coat that has very little difference between sizes. I reckon the M would work for up to a size 14/16.

And then....be still my beating heart - the Lille Heel in black! After ordering and sending back the Alice heels in black as they were insecure on my foot and too small in the 39/too big in the 40, I was sure the fit of these would be the same but it seems to be a tiny bit bigger and they also feel more secure on my foot.
Just adore them - they've a beautiful shape on the foot, the most perfect heel height and I will wear them lots to choir concerts and on nights out. Wish I could justify the red colour way also!

Finally, the candle is fab - it's actually the exact scent of the one Boden gives to party hosts. It matches my kitchen and smells divine. Deciding whether to hold as a gift or keep for myself. It's sold out online but watch on this link for returns.
Moving onto Topshop, where I ordered the flat lace up shoes in the sale for just £10 - mainly to bring my order over the free delivery threshold. I didn't have high hopes but I really love them....they're so comfortable and I think the fact that they're not pointed means they suit my foot better. Sold out online but these are gorgeous too and a TOTAL bargain!
They're not investment items nor something I'll have for many years but they tick a trend box and I'll wear them occasionally over the spring/autumn and enjoy the fact that they didn't cost the earth.

My other purchase was the Joni jeans - black coated (not in the sale), which seem to be like hens' teeth as I can never see them online or in-store in my size. I ordered the petite ones in the hope that they'd work but they really are a petite fitting and were way too short:
These jeans are the best coated ones I've seen and the fit is fab. High waisted and snug but flattering too...and tight to the ankle, which I always look for in a skinny jean. I've since picked up the right size in the Boucher road store - they will be worn this week! My size in these is a 30/32 by the way...a size 12 Regular leg.

I had a Navy bag gap in my wardrobe and this beauty from Yoshi has filled it perfectly. For £20, you could not go wrong with this gorgeous leather cross body bag. Perfection. I'm going to enjoy using it for many years. 
Lastly, I ordered this scarf from ASOS. It is even better in the flesh and I'm keeping it. Love the colour mix and how cosy it is. Tempted to buy in the navy colour way too - for my new coat!!
So all in all, I'm delighted with everything and the Christmas money (and my remaining Boden credit) is well and truly spent. 

Ok - no spend rest of January commences today.....haha!

Ax

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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Vita Liberata Spray Tan Review

Hands up who's has a spray tan disaster? I've only ever had one done once and it was a complete and utter mess. Despite prepping my skin for days, exfoliating, moisturising and following all the instructions I was given, I got the full Oompa Loompa effect....and as for my feet - well they were still orange 3 weeks later! I vowed never to let a tan spray near me ever again.

Then, 3 years on from that tan trauma, I read an article by my friend and fellow local blogger Nic. she was writing about her first ever Vita Liberata spray tan. I immediately emailed her to ask lots more questions and she allayed all my fears. I was especially drawn to Nic's description of the lovely Angie, who is the manager of the Belfast Vita Liberata tanning booth in House of Fraser. Down to earth, friendly and expert at putting people at ease - so important when you're stripping off in front of a stranger!
Decision made, next time I had an event worthy of it, I would take up the long standing offer from the team at Vita Liberata to try out the booth myself. And a few months on, the choir Christmas concert in the Waterfront Hall was that worthy event.

So the day before the concert, I headed into Belfast wearing my flip-flops and comfortable leisure wear (hoping I'd not meet anyone I know!!) with two 7 year olds in tow. Luckily, Angie was as lovely as Nic said. She took me arriving with the kids completely in her stride and cheerily showed us into the tanning booth, which is located in the Beauty hall on the Ground floor.
Inside the tanning booth

First up, Angie explained about the types of tan and colours available and reassured me on the Oompa Loompa worries. She gave me some pads to stick onto the sole of my feet, a hair cap and a pair of disposable pants. The pants are optional - you can chose to leave your own underwear on or indeed, wear nothing at all. Angie assured me she's seen it all, lumps & bumps, men & women, 18 year olds and 80 year olds - so nothing will shock her.
You also don't have to worry about putting anything on your skin before hand. Ideally, you need to come to Angie with nothing on your skin, no perfume, no deodorant, no moisture. She will prep all the areas that need it beforehand....so that there's no clumping of colour around the drier areas of your body.

Given my event was on stage, I was recommended a good coverage of the medium colour - Equador. I opted for the classic formulation, which means I would have an instant tint visible after the spray. It would develop further over the day to a darker colour but once I showered, I was assured it would look more like the original colour.
All of the tan colours can be applied as an invisible formulation too, which doesn't colour the skin immediately - it develops slowly over the hours afterwards. Oh and there's an anti-ageing formulation available too. It really amazed me how much technology is involved in the Vita Liberata tanning process and it's more remarkable because this technology has been achieved without the use of chemicals. In fact, Vita Liberata's ingredients are the purest in the tanning world. They only use natural, certified organic and Ecocert ingredients. I wrote more about this in my post where I reviewed their facial tanner and unique bronzing tanning crystals - both of which I use constantly and have re-purchased.
Angie kept the girls amused while she sprayed me....and while they clicked away on the camera (most of photos were unusable and were deleted promptly!!) But this next one is fairly decent and gives a good idea of the before and after:
The verdict? Well, this is me immediately after  (makeup-less). There's an obvious colour but it's subtle and I definitely wasn't as self-conscious going back to the car. The power of a tan!
I had my spray done at 10am and for the rest of the day, I wore loose clothing but was pretty much able to go about my usual business. I needed to keep my hands out of water but I found that easy enough to stick to :) Many of Angie's clients get their tan done in the evening and go straight to bed. Either way, you need to wait at least 8 hours before showering.
By bedtime, I was really very brown and confess to being slightly concerned about looking too tanned for the concert. But I needn't have worried. I had a cool shower before getting into bed and the result was amazing - really natural, no streaks and most importantly, no dark patches on the ankles or elbows.

You can see all the photos of the event on this link. It was just amazing to have the all-over colour and I was probably most disappointed that I didn't go for a backless dress as the colour was so great on my back! Definitely going to do that next time.

In terms of wear-off, I looked after my skin well for the next week, having cooler showers, patting dry and moisturising. By the following Saturday, it had faded off naturally with just a little bit lingering in drier areas...this was easily buffed off with my exfoliating glove.

The Verdict? I was really impressed with this treatment and will have it done again for an occasion or if I'm going on holiday. It's not something I could afford to have done more regularly but I would definitely get one or two done over the summer if we get some decent leg-baring weather this year.

Meanwhile, I've ordered some of the Vita Liberata Self Tan Lotion in their 30% off sale ...hoping I can recreate some of my spray tan magic at home...a girl can dream :)

Ax
Disclaimer: the spray tan was provided to me free of charge but I was not required to blog about it and all the words are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog.
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Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Zara Sale Haul - Expectation vs Reality

As you know, I ordered some stuff to try on from the Zara sale as per this post so I thought you might like to see how I got on with it all. The title of this blog post probably says it all.....the reality definitely wasn't as good as I had expected but that was somewhat a relief as I can't afford it all anyway! Lots of randomness on the photos as I tried it all on at different times, in different lights etc. Hopefully you can get the gist of what they look like in reality.

Starting with the Cream Cape (size M), which I had the highest hopes for and in fact, it is a lovely piece. The quality is excellent and it's a nice boucle style fabric with a lovely weight to it, a zip closure and slits for your arms (rather than holes...if that makes sense).
My problem with it is that it sits very triangular on me, making me look bigger than I am on top (in not a good way). Also, it's shorter than my black cape and I don't think this length suits my long torso. I love the idea of it but it's not a piece that's going to work hard for me so it has to go back.

Verdict - return

The trench coat looks amazing online but I had concerns about it not being fitted at the waist and that is indeed the case. I ordered the size M and again, quality is good and it's a nice material and weight but being ruthless, I don't think the shape is that flattering on me and the sleeves are WAY too long....more my problem than Zara's though as my arms are on the short side. Possibly the S would have worked better in this one.
Verdict - return

The brown boucle coat is one I've seen on a few other stylish ladies on Instagram and it ticked lots of boxes for me in that it's collarless and looks good left open (how I prefer to wear my coats). The colour is good too as it's somewhere between grey and brown, so it suits my colouring.
The fit is great and the sleeves are perfect (yay) but there's a slight flaw at the hem where there seems to be a thread pulling it up inside which is so annoying. I'm unsure whether this is a sign to tell me I have enough coats and to send it back. It's sold out online so my only other option is to see if my friends at the Zipyard could fix it for me though that would be an extra cost...decisions decisions.

Verdict - undecided

And quality is a bit of an issue with the next two items. First up, the halter style black top (sold out in this colour), which looked fab on the website. In reality, it's utter rubbish. Totally see through, it's the cheapest of the cheap material and unwearable unless  you want to share your underwear (or your boobs) with the world. This is a size M.
Verdict - return

The Irregular Sweater tops I do like. I got a grey flecked one and a black one - both colours seem to be sold out now. I only tried on the black one and was happy with the size (M) though they are snug on the hips and have a tendency to ride up. But I adore the shape of them and the high wide neckline and suspect the L would look a bit shapeless on me.
However, after I chopped the labels and the annoying ribbon things off them, I tried on the grey one and found a hole in it down near the seam on one side. Sigh. Again, as it was so inexpensive and is sold out online, I'm getting the sewing kit out for this one.
Verdict - keep

Lastly, it's the slip on trainers in navy patent. Plus points are that they're comfy, navy and well priced. Negatives are that they look a bit big on my feet - though that could be because I've been wearing pointy black shoes so much over the past few weeks. Another negative is that the colour is a bit futuristic with a sheen that gives off other colours - instead of being just navy. This might appeal to some. I need to mull over these.
Verdict - undecided

And there you go - to add to the returns, I have the black cape that I ordered at £20 less than the one I got for a Christmas present. Problem being, I now can't find the receipt for the original one at £80. Honestly, you couldn't make it up sometimes....I have put it somewhere safe and promptly forgotten where that is. So the second cape is going back now. Please tell me you guys do stuff like this?!

Do tell me how you've gotten on with the Zara sale - any gems I've missed or have you had a better or similar experience? Oh and if you've not got enough of the sales, the Hush one started last night!!

Ax
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Monday, 4 January 2016

2016 Style Resolutions

Happy new year to you all and thanks for the support throughout 2015. Holding my hands up to the fact that it wasn't a notable year from a blogging point of view. The house move last Christmas, 4 months of renovations, followed by easter, then summer...excuses, excuses....but it all meant that I got out of the way of blogging regularly. I became a blogging lazy arse really and I enjoyed it - a little too much some would say (husband).

Now we're into a new year, I am hoping to get back to a more regular blogging schedule again and to focus the mind, I thought I'd set out my Style Resolutions...a kind of checklist I'll keep close to hand when I'm making any purchases or having a wardrobe cull over the next 12 months. Hopefully you'll find some of them helpful too.
1. Basics....my wardrobe is slowly accumulating quality basics and will continue to do so this year. They don't have to be expensive - just nicely made in good fabrics and, well.... basic! Having worn a very simple capsule wardrobe since about September, I'm finding my wardrobe shrinking (in a good way) and my daily 'what to wear' dilemma is no more.
2. Leather...during 2015, I've managed to avoid synthetic shoes all year (apart from a gifted pair that I brought to Boston and had to throw out while there as the heel snapped....says it all!) but I caved and took a couple of faux leather bags into my collection. I know in my heart however that they're not keepers....it's just a false economy. No more this year.

3. Jewellery & Scarves....I've made the difficult decision to close down my shop. Since we moved, I don't have the room to store stock and there's so much competition online now, it's really difficult to make an income that reflects the time spent running the shop. But on the upside, it means that I can buy my scarves and jewellery wherever I like now and I'm looking forward to checking out some new brands
Note - there's a closing down sale over in the shop on this link - though there's very little stock left! 

4. Take a chance...if I've learned anything since starting this blog it's to try most things at least once. I used to be such a bore in regard to my style and had a list of things I swore I'd NEVER wear (including trainers!!). And that's the best thing about personal style blogs. You get to see styles and trends on all shapes and sizes, in a ton of different ways and it helps you to see how that trend might work for you. A shop website or magazine could never do that. So amen to all the ladies on my blog roll - the blogs I read regularly and who inspire me endlessly. I've never professed to know anything about fashion so I rely on my stylish blogging friends to try things out and show me how to work it! This is a good time to offer full credit for the trainers to Joanna.
5. Reduce/Reuse/Recycle - I've always been good at selling on or donating my wardrobe and have a fairly strict 'one in/one out' policy but 2015 saw me really embrace pre-loved and consignment. I got several of my most favourite pieces from local store Deja Vu, most notably my Gerard Darel coat which I've worn 3-4 times a week since I got it in October (even contemplating getting a second one from eBay as back-up). I urge you to seek out your local store and go for a rummage. I visit Ruth in Deja Vu about once a month and sometimes I buy, sometimes, I come out with money from the items she's sold for me. If your local store has a good owner, they'll keep you posted if something comes in that you might like and get to know them and they will let you take things on appro to try on at home.  Throwaway fashion is just not sustainable so getting quality items that have been gently worn at a fraction of the cost is a far better arrangement.  Of course, charity shops are excellent too - I have a few local favourites that I visit regularly too! You'll rarely get the quality labels that consignment shops have but in fact - you just never know!
2 Deja Vu favourites my coat from Gerard Darel and this grey wool skirt from Marc Cain

So with those 5 resolutions in mind, the 5th year of School Gate Style commences! I'll leave you with a quote from the wonderful Joan Rivers. This year will be a good one for many, a more difficult one for some....let's make it one to remember.
Ax
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