Sunday, 30 September 2018

Holly Willoughby at Marks & Spencer | Try On

Last week I managed to get into M&S for the Holly's Must Haves launch. One of my friends from when I worked in the Bank, Jenny,  is now working as one of the Fit & Style team at Sprucefield, Lisburn and she offered to pull the size 10's for me to try on on the day of the launch. 

When I arrived at 9.30, I couldn't believe the crowds and by 10am, the fitting room had a queue of women of all ages, trying on the range. I think that's what was so great to see - Holly's edit has such a broad appeal both in terms of age and colouring. There really is something for everyone.

I should say for anyone not aware of the range that it isn't something that Holly has actually designed. Rather it's a capsule edit of some of the new AW18 M&S range and that's clever marketing as it keeps M&S as the driving force - Holly is simply picking her gems from the existing range. In any case, I'm always wary of celebrities designing clothes.

The range comprises 20 items and I tried on 11 of them - sizes were limited on the day and there were a couple of pieces I wasn't fussed about so didn't use valuable time trying them on.

So here goes with what I did try on starting with the dress, which was the item that there was the most fuss about ahead of the launch. It's not for me though as the colour is not good on my palette and also I'm not a fan of this length in a dress, preferring instead something above the knee or below the calf. This one hits me mid calf and I'm not feeling it (I'm just under 5'7")
 It's a lovely fit though and looks great accessorised with black.  Beware of many other women wearing - I think it's the most recognisable piece of the collection....but having said that, I've only met one woman locally wearing the insta-famous jumpsuit.
Next up and I knew I would love the checked wrap skirt. My favourite look for winter is opaque tights and a short coloured skirt - it's my workwear go-to.
I'm wearing the checked skirt with my favourite part of the collection - the white slogan t-shirt. It's made from the loveliest soft cotton and the fit is really nice. It's the shape of a classic t-shirt but is shorter so it's perfect for wearing with skirts. Being wary of slogan t-shirts generally, I love that this is a subtle slogan and not an angry declaration or statement of intent!
Then I added the pink coat - it's actually the pink version of the grey and green coats I featured on this last post. These coats are amazing value for being 30% wool and they're a great classic crombie fit. Size wise, I'm wearing the 10 and though it does come up big, I think I'd take the bigger size to allow for wearing with knitwear.
In all of the photos so far, I'm wearing the Autograph leather ankle boots and I'd highly recommend them. They've got a lovely chunky heel and are made from a soft pebbled leather.
Next up, I tried the checked trousers and while they're a lovely cut and colour, I was reminded why I don't wear this style of trouser. Being pear shaped, the masculine cut of these isn't flattering on my hips. But they're a nice length and look good with my brogues (and with the loafers in the collection, which I didn't get around to trying but are on this link). 
Generally speaking, I think pears should avoid a patterned trouser..these would look amazing on an apple or boy-figure, giving a bit of definition to the bottom half.
Now the pink blouse with the trousers - really liked this blouse:
But I preferred it with the less busy bottoms - these super skinny jeans are a great fit and only £19.50!
I changed my shoes for that last photo - wearing the stretchy ankle boots in burgundy. These look a bit unusual on first glance but they're a dream to pull on and off and are so comfortable. They come in black too.
Finally, I tried on the check blazer with the jeans and the t-shirt. This is a lovely wool mix fabric and Holly says on her video that she chose it for the boxy fit but I wasn't a fan of the shape. I'd rather a slightly longer line single breasted one myself but it's going to look great on an apple figure.
Last product I want to mention are the trainers. They're not available in-store so I couldn't try them but they look like a fantastic white leather trainer.

My overall verdict? I think it's a great collaboration for M&S and at a time when high street retail is struggling, it's so good to see something positive happening that's getting people excited. Holly is a great choice given her appeal across many age groups and her likeability - she's well known by all age groups, unlike Alexa Chung or Twiggy, who aren't perhaps as visible to the general public as much as Holly. She's also a safe bet - the edit isn't too fashion forward and that's good. M&S shoppers are desperate for good quality, wearable items with a nod to fashion trends. Not full-on trend pieces that the press and bloggers get over excited about for a moment in time.

Having said that, I thought it was a bit too safe overall - I would have liked to have seen some faux fur and a bit of floral to clash with the check. And perhaps less of a focus on one colour. There was one point where I came out of my fitting room to 5 women around me all pretty much dressed the same because the pink game was strong. That definitely put me off buying the coat.

But bring it on M&S with the collaborations - let's get Mary Portas next.

And before I go, just a quick mention for the Fit and Style team at Sprucefield. It's a free service that's available in 35 of the bigger M&S stores in the form of a bookable 1 hour appointment. You simply chose the reason for the appointment, workwear, wedding etc., supply your sizes and leave the rest to the team there. A fab option for anyone who doesn't enjoy shopping or has limited time to find an outfit for an important occasion. I didn't know about it until I met Jenny on Thursday as it's a relatively new concept and I can recommend it in Sprucefield - the girls are so lovely and friendly. They make shopping a pleasure and help to pick the best from what is a huge and overwhelming store. More information on this link.

Ax
Disclaimer - this post is not sponsored. Some of my links are affiliate links which means M&S know you came to their website from mine and they may pay me a tiny commission if you buy and keep any items. This doesn't change the price of the item for you and the modest income I make from these links over the course of a year goes towards the running costs of this blog. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.
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Friday, 28 September 2018

#FridayRetailTherapy | Hobbs

This week's Friday Retail Therapy is a visit to Hobbs in Victoria Square. 
Way back when I worked full time and my money was my own (remember those days??!), I always bought either a coat or a pair of boots in Hobbs each winter. The last pair of boots I bought was when I was pregnant with the twins and I still have them. They're not really on trend at the moment but they are too beautiful to give away and I do wear them now and again. 

Skip on 10 years and I've changed how I shop. I'm making a conscious effort to avoid the fast and cheap fashion outlets. I'm horrified by what I've read in 'To Die For' by Lucy Siegle. It's really changed how I feel about shopping and I've honestly not set foot in a Primark, H&M or Tesco F&F etc since - not that they're the only culprits, higher end brands can be just as bad. So the overall message is to buy less and wear it more so I've pared back my wardrobe, made a conscious effort to shop less and buy responsibly and started reading the small print on websites.

Which is what drove today's visit to Hobbs. If you're interested, take a look at their website because I honestly haven't seen a more comprehensive approach to modern slavery, corporate social responsibility and gender equality from a high street retailer. Speaking to the team in Victoria Square, I came away wanting to work there. They all absolutely love their jobs, feel hugely rewarded in terms of pay and bonus and get a generous staff discount. I spend a lot of time in shops and the kind of engagement I saw in Hobbs today was more akin to what you'd see in an independent clothing shop. It's these kinds of things that really drive me to shop with a brand.

Let's move onto the try on. Brace yourself - there are a LOT of photos! And if you're reading this the weekend of the 28/29 September, there's 20% off all prices - I've not factored that into the prices I've published below..

Starting with this black dress with is an absolute classic. It's work appropriate but also could be dressed up, has some gorgeous 60's vibes going on and is flattering in all the right places - arms, length, cut - and the fabric is 80% wool. Just stunning and if I had an office job, I'd have bought it in a heartbeat. You could literally wear it EVERY day - so easily accessorised. A little hard to see in the photo but you can see more on Instagram stories and on the link to the website below. 

Next up, a more casual look. These merino wool knits are a wardrobe staple and come in a few great colours - camel, grey, black. The skirt is part of a checked range that includes a dress and which was so nicely merchandised in-store with mustard yellows. I played it safe with the camel!  

Next, a classic trench - Hobbs do these SO well every season and this year's one comes in timeless camel, navy and a grey/green that I tried on further below
And here it is closed:
and add a leopard scarf and you're good to go! 
Speaking of leopard, I couldn't come to Hobbs and not try on their leopard dress - the most classy one on the high street in my opinion. The black stripe down the side is so slimming and helps to take down the leopard a notch. Only downside is that there are no pockets!

Back to a knit with a wool skirt and this cat jumper is so cute. A bit more interesting than a black crew neck and blissfully slogan free!

Onto workwear again and away from the black for this plum and navy combo. 
Marie Top - £89 (size 8)

Then I added this gorgeous navy coat - also comes in red 
Romy Coat - Navy - £269 (wearing the 8)

This next cream top is so lovely - beautiful sleeve detail yet fully work appropriate. I teamed it with navy trousers

Brighten it up with a red wool blazer which can be worn casually too..
or a more casual knitted jacket..
or the Hackness jacket again - this time in a lighter blue:

Back more casual again and I'm wearing the Hobbs Indigo jeans now with their classic shirt. Just the most perfect classic wardrobe foundations..
add a colour block knit for a pop of colour and a bit of warmth:
or dress it up a bit with this check blazer from the sale rail:

There are some great jersey basics in the sale too, like this white top for £31
And this breton for £27 
Moving onto boots and this is the 2018 long boot option from Hobbs. Yes, long boots are back in but they're wider in the leg this season for wearing with midi lengths and trousers
And this is the must have ankle boot of the season:
And finishing with a few coats I couldn't walk away without trying. Firstly the classic trench in this gorgeous neutral colour - something different if you're not a fan of camel:
This black coat is stunning with its ruffle detail at the cuff and pockets:
And how about some red - stunning for winter:
And there you go - I'm exhausted just typing it all! Thanks to Lauren and all the team at Hobbs in Victoria Square for welcoming me this morning and looking after me so well. I'll leave you with a few images from the store - it's always beautifully merchandised:


And remember, there's still lots of sale stock to be found in-store this weekend!
Back next Friday with another Retail Therapy session and remember you can see all the videos on Instagram highlights!

Ax
Disclaimer - I wasn't paid to come into Hobbs - it was a favour for Lauren the manager who follows the blog. I was given a gift voucher to thank me for my visit. 
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Thursday, 27 September 2018

#FridayRetailTherapy | Style

You may have noticed that I've been using the #retailtherapy hashtag in various forms (can't decide exactly what to call it....) in recent weeks on social media. It's because I've decided to start dedicating a day a week to the high street. I've already put one post up on this link that you may have seen and it's something along these lines that I'm planning to deliver on a weekly basis, while the work situation allows.

This is down to direct feedback from you all that even though you love that I'm not buying as much and being more considered about what I buy, you are all really busy and still want to see what's in the shops to save you the time and effort of trawling through websites or going from shop to shop on your precious time off.

So each week I'll be sharing my little bit of Retail Therapy from a mixture of local small businesses, bigger retail outlet and high street shops. I'll show you the new stock that's in-store and I'll also be trying on what catches my eye.

Some of this will be on a #ad basis - I've already had local businesses and bigger brands approach me to come and share what they have in-store and they have been good enough to cover the cost of me travelling in and my time spent at their shop. Nothing more than that - I'm not getting massive money here. Other visits will be more spontaneous - if I happen to be in a particular town or shop that week. I'll try to keep it mixed up but even when paid, it will still showcase items that I genuinely like and would recommend. And I'll mix it up as much as I can in terms of location and type of shop.

I hope you'll enjoy this each week. I'll share it on Instagram as it happens and then on Facebook and on a blog post once I get all the photos sorted. But as always, let me know what you think and please do suggest places for me to visit, especially any lovely shops a bit further out of Belfast.

Equally, if you're a shop owner and you'd like me to visit, just drop me an email to avril@alifetostyle.com.

I'll be back on here tomorrow with photos from this week's shop...so stand by

Ax
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What's in M&S This Season? | #ad

As part of my blog detox, I am no longer doing blog posts in return for gifted items, which is how I always worked with M&S in the past. They've been hugely supportive of this though and we have agreed that instead of monthly gifted product posts, I'm going to do occasional try-on posts where I'm paid for the time spent in store and writing this. I think it's better content too - you'll get to see more of what's in store rather than just a few items I'm sent.

I'm not tied to any particular department in M&S or to feature any brand - my only brief was to share some of the new range that's come in for Autumn Winter so I headed to Forestside and here's what I spotted, starting with my weakness...coats!
There's a lovely range of £69 wool mix coats in a few different colours that are such a great classic shape and gorgeous on. This checked colour way was my favourite. Here it is on the rail:
and here it is on me in a size 10.
This green colour way is lovely also - it's got a herringbone detail going through the fabric:
Fantastic value and such a classic shape - you'll wear it year after. I predict a sell out.
It also comes in a great shade of camel...this time I'm wearing the size 8 and it works find on me with a light knit so they're a little on the large side.
And here's where I lose patience with the M&S website because these coats are SO difficult to find online. I could only find the grey check one by going into the green one and selecting other colourways. And there's no sign of the camel one at all. Loads of them on the rails in Forestisde though!  

A complete curveball here but I think this coat is this year's M&S 'Pink Duster' coat. Remember the one that sold out a couple of years ago? Well meet its 2018 equivalent. Not a colour that suits a warm palate that well but I don't care - I LOVE:
BUT ditto on the website woes - loads in store but can't find it in either this colour or the navy it also comes in online. From memory, I think it was £99 but don't quote me on that.

This next one wasn't in my size so I didn't try it but I've seen a few bloggers feature. Checks are so massive (in trend, not size) this AW18 so this is a great way to tick that box:
Had to take this next photo because I couldn't believe it is all Per Una!! I'm simultaneously impressed and confused. Can't work out why M&S just don't ditch it as a brand and incorporate it into the M&S collection. It has such a frumpy reputation which items like this don't deserve:
Into the changing room now and this jacket was my favourite thing I brought in to try. It's really me - monochrome, angular, smart/casual and I love the subtle sports luxe vibe going on with it.
My daughter chose this next jumper for me to try on. It ticks lots of boxes but it has become a bit of an Instagram hit (which as you know, makes me want to run a mile!) but at the end of the day, the reality is it's the wrong shape for me. And the sleeves are WAAY too long. I'm wearing the S here.
Instead this next one is a proper M&S gold - all the hush and Mint Velvet vibes for less than £20. It's so nice to wear and fits well. Would love it in another colour way too - black & red perhaps?
This next dress had potential and looks good from the front but it's evil from the back. Be warned - industrial foundation garments required. Not for me but it's good to share the disasters as well as the successes isn't it?!
A bit of a curveball next - this is from the current sale rail. I've seen lots of bloggers try this one on and all I'll say is that it's worth buying in the sale but I'd never have paid full price for it. It's got the ultimate design flaw - those STUPID tiny buttons at the neckline with teeny tiny elastic loops that no person can ever close. My daughter was with me and even her tiny fingers couldn't close them. So if I had bought it, I'd have changed them but I didn't buy it in the end. It could be styled up so nicely for winter but I think part of me is tiring of midi dresses a little...can't believe I am saying that on here!
Green Dress - on sale - not online
To finish, a classic black pleated skirt (Per Una again!) which just hangs beautifully and fits nicely. I teamed it with this pink chunky knit but I think a less chunky top would work better:

Back out on the shop floor and I wanted to check out the footwear before I left, starting with these silver strappy shoes which were a surprise hit.
They have a zipped back on them to make them easy to put on and take off:
There was also these lovely black patent ones with a fab leopard heel!
A dipped shoe boot is so flattering on the leg and can be worn with a skirt or with trousers. These are a great option and come in a leopard print too. They look absolutely RARE online - much better in real life!
Another great wardrobe basic - the chelsea boot. These are a lovely quality leather and really well priced:
and now to the second piece I struggled not to buy - these platform brogues. The 2018 version of the ones that sold out in black & burgundy last winter. They're the most gorgeous metallic blue/black colour and so comfortable...almost sold out online!
All told - M&S delivering well on the shoe front - these classic ankle boots are fab too and there are plenty of great colours for the season ahead including red again. Yay to all of us who bought our red ankle boots last winter!
Kitten Heel Ankle Boots

Hope you enjoyed this little peep into M&S...do ask if you've any questions about sizing. 

Ax
This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S but all the items I picked were my choice and the words are my own. The links are affiliate which means M&S know you came to their website from mine and may pay me a tiny commission if you buy and keep an item. This doesn't change the price of the item for you and the modest income I make from these links helps to keep this blog going. Thank YOU!
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