Thursday, 28 July 2011

Sun Dress for a Sunny Sunday

On those rare occasions when all the stars and the planets are correctly aligned in the right positions in the universe, the following rarer phenomena have been known to occur simultaneously on planet Earth:
1) The sun comes out to shine in England;
2) It is very hot in London;
3) It is sunny on the weekend rather than during the week when you are trapped in the office;
4) You are invited to a barbecue in England;
5) It does not rain at said barbecue;
6) Veshoevius wears a colourful sundress!

Dress, Mango; Espadrilles, bought in Spain

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Tipping Point

My wardrobe hanging rail fell down this week - not a cheap Ikea or Argos wardrobe but a pole screwed into the wall!  It was timed perfectly to make dressing for my first week at a new job a complete nightmare.  This is after I did some sorting and placed things into vague piles.

The same thing happened to Penny Dreadful not so long ago, which at the time got me worried about it happening to me one day as I could see that my own wardrobe rail was bowing under the strain.  Well those three sale blazers from Zara I brought home with me from my holiday were clearly the tipping point!

There has been a distinct lack of sympathy from loved ones.  Mr V has merely pointed out that nothing of his was hanging on the rail and the other V expressed amazement that it had held out this long and hadn't happened before!

I have been suitably cowed by this into a wardrobe declutter effort which has been long overdue.  Given that this was the result of hanging up mainly summer weight clothing I dread to think what will happen come Autumn when the heavier stuff has to come out of storage.  To face the daunting task ahead I have solicited help from the high priestess of wardrobe organisation Elika Gibbs via Amazon:

I'll let you know how I get on.  But in the meantime off to B&Q!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Workwear by Grazia or How to Lose Your Job and Alienate your Colleagues

Recently I've been working in a corporate environment where the office dress codes are fairly conservative.  It has got me thinking a lot about what type of clothing really is office appropriate and how off the mark a lot of fashion magazines usually are for the majority of us when they make suggestions for office appropriate workwear.

The underlying assumption always seem to be is that everyone either works in fashion or a creative industry and can wear whatever they want with scant regard for office dress codes applicable to the majority of other industries.  That we should all be so lucky!  In particular, Summer fashion presents the average working girl with a sartorial minefield with magazines trying to push the latest trends which are, all too often, completely incongruous with most office dress codes.  Now I may work at the more conservative end of the office dress code scale but I'm sure that the majority of us have to be much more realistic when choosing what to wear to work, yet here are some of the office appropriate suggestions I've seen recently.

Looking for a way to ban boardroom wardrobe boredom?  Well one surefire way to do so is to get yourself banned from the boardroom faster than you can say "tailoring is so boring" by taking a page out of Grazia's definitive guide on how to dress to look cool for summer and permanently damage your career in the process. 

First up is their plea to take up that mythical item of office suiting: a pair of city shorts.

Source: Grazia UK

Shorts at work? Yes you can? Uh, actually, no you can't!  Unless you work in fashion or that ilk of course but the world is a little larger than that dear Grazia.  And yet they claim "there is no need to stick to fusty skirt-suits if you have a smart work dress-code."  Tailored shorts to the rescue apparently - through Grazia barely succeed in covering their ass (excuse the pun) by attaching the rules that they shouldn't be too tight and too short - "no Daisy Dukes ladies!".  Well phew!  I'm so glad someone at Grazia is drawing a definitive line under where the professional woman's acceptable thigh exposure should begin.  Me thinks the horse will already have well and truly bolted if you turn up to the office in any of the suggestions that do abide by their rules.

Three words to bear in mind when dressing for work: TOO MUCH INFORMATION.  Your colleagues don't need it.  To tell it to you straight, I have worked under many a smart dress code and most expect you to cover up, even in the heat.  Some provide explicit, written instructions that shorts, miniskirts and in some cases even cropped trousers are off limits.

I suspect none of the Grazia team have ever worked in an office with a smart work dress code because as lovely as tailored shorts are, they are anything but office appropriate no matter what you wear them with.  I don't know a single female city worker who would dare wear these to work and with good cause.  Despite any suggestions that choosing a well cut tailored style and pairing it with a prim top will tone it down, nothing will deflect the attention (particularly that of your male colleagues) from the fact that your legs are blatantly on show and that ultimately, you look unprofessional.  You are at work, not the beach.

Second up: wear a tee shirt with pretty skirt.

Source: Grazia UK

Some office dress codes are casual enough that they allow tee shirts but there are many, many others in which wearing a tee shirt to work will scream to your colleagues "I really couldn't be bothered this morning" whether you paid £10 for it or £100 to be fashionable.  Never mind tee shirts, could somebody please explain to me in which type of workplace (apart from the Grazia offices clearly) a crop top would be considered appropriate workwear?  Please! I'm dying to know!

Are we to delude ourselves into thinking the addition of a statement skirt (including one costing almost £2000) absolves the professional crime of baring your midriff?  Do your colleagues really need to see your belly button/belly piercing/muffin top/stretch marks/gap year tattoo?  Crop tops only look good on sixteen to twenty nothing year olds with washboard stomachs and even then they should never be worn to work.  Has it escaped Grazia that there is rather high rate of unemployment in this age bracket at the moment due to the recession?  Yet here they are gaily recommending this as an office worthy outfit without any caveat of what industry it might be appropriate for (selling ice cream at the beach would be my suggestion).

Finally there is suggestion of how to work that old chestnut, the boardroom to bar outfit, with a split skirt.

Source: Grazia UK

Although this look is more covered up than shorts and a crop top it clearly intends to ooze sex appeal and risks sending a message to your colleagues and more pertinently, your boss, that you would rather be at the bar than at work.  When I showed this picture to Mr V who also works for a corporate he guffawed with laughter.  So be warned ladies!  While you might score kudos points with your fashion savvy female colleagues the men might be thinking something else altogether.

I don't know what boardroom dress codes are for shopping editors but in any of the boardrooms I've been in you would be mad to flash even a hint of thigh.  There are few professions I would imagine looking sexy would be part of your job description.   Overtly sexy is never a look you should be aiming for in a professional setting especially if you have male colleagues.  At work you want to be taken seriously and have people concentrate on your performance at work.  Save the high voltage gear for changing into once you leave the office.

I fully concede a huge range of work dress codes exist in offices and across different careers but I seriously question whether the level of flesh exposure proposed in these outfit suggestions would be appropriate for any of them.  While we would all like to inject some personality and look good at work I feel that these sorts of articles are not helpful and very often misleading.  Why not cater for a range of professions (outside the realms of the usual fashion/creative/marketing et al...) rather than serve up three major disservices to the credibility of women in the workplace in one magazine?

Most of us are not being paid to be cutting edge fashionable or sexy, we are being paid to do a job and represent a company.  This doesn't mean you can't be stylish at work but you should carefully consider the dress code of your office before swallowing advice like this which really needs a career health warning slapped on it.  This is the type of of fashion journalism you get when you get unpaid interns that have neither salary, raise, bonus nor promotion at stake to write your workwear suggestions for you!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Night Walking

Jerez de la Frontera at night always feels a little haunted, a little magical, a little other worldly.  Like you just stepped out of the modern world and emerge through some portal straight back into the past.

Here at night, the soft golden light of the lanterns lends the decaying splendour of the dilapidated buildings in the plazas a flattering glow.  The quiet is sometimes punctuated by the high pitched whir of a city scooter, dogs barking, or the chatter and banter of people seated in the plazas and bars with a drink, escaping the unbearable summer heat of their houses that prevents them sleeping.  Usually though, there is barely a soul about as you walk through the old town, listening to nothing but the sound of an owl hooting softly from a church steeple, imagining to yourself the sound of the small talk, laughter, cries and whispers of those who walked through this town over the centuries.

I've been asked to translate the word duende by Terri.  It is simultaneously defined as "a spirit" as in a kind of ghost or poltergeist, and also as a state of heightened emotion and passion, usually in relation to flamenco. 

Duende in the context of flamenco is a difficult, almost ethereal concept to grasp until you experience a flamenco performance that raises the hair on the back of your neck and the feeling stays with you for days afterward.  There is an implication that the flamenco performer becomes in a way possessed by something other, becomes a channel for the expression of something higher than his or herself in moments of true inspiration in their performance.  It is what gives you goosebumps listening to a guitarist or singer, what makes the contorted face of a young dancer or singer appear inexplicably decades older in a moment of passion.  It is like the concept of all artists finding God through their art, experiencing rapture even.  A flamenco performer without duende is considered to be like a writer without words, a blank page if you like, although beautiful in its unmarked purity, it says nothing.

Walking the streets of Jerez at night, this town considered the birthplace of flamenco, shrouded in the melancholy shadows of its past, in which duende seems to lurk in every corner, you begin to understand it a little better, befriend it, welcome it.

When I am not here, I like to think that when I am asleep at night, somewhere in that twilight state between sleeping and dreaming, that my soul takes flight and travels back here to walk these streets again.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Food Glorious Food!

I don't mean to come over all "Marthrette" on you but I thought I'd do a food post. Terri of Rags Against the Machine asked if we prepared our own meals while on holiday and the answer is yes.  Mr V and I love cooking and we love eating even more. We love getting to know the local cuisine of the places we visit and luxury to us is staying in a place near a market which has a kitchen where we can take back local wares and prepare some meals.  The town of Jerez de la Frontera has an amazing market where you can buy fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables.

Lunch and dinner is usually just a smörgåsbord of simple preparations using local delights.  Everything actually takes very little time to make.  When I'm running around between dance classes and the beach I don't want to spend all day cooking but here you can manage to eat like a king cheaply and with little preparation.  We love fresh juicy giant prawns boiled quickly and served up with a dash of lemon juice.  We serve up some of the local cheese, bread and the famous cured ham, jamon serrano, which is so soft it just melts in your mouth.  We also like to do as the Andalusians do and have bread with olive oil, tomato and ham for breakfast.

This picture is especially for Vintage Vix who commented on my last post about loving Spanish tomatoes.  One of my favourite dishes is tomate aliñado salad, made using the large tasty red salad tomatoes you find in Spain.  Literally all you need to do is slice one of these up and dress it with a bit of olive oil and the locally produced sherry vinegar and you have an instantaneous side salad which is both delicious and healthy.

I also tossed some sardines in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil and white wine and we ate them for dinner and lunch the next day.

The fish market is the most impressive part of the market offering an impressive variety of fish, shellfish and crustaceans.  Many of the fishmongers are from gypsy families, some also well known flamenco artists.  It's not unusual to hear flamenco singing or some flamenco palmas on a market day.  I'll have some duende with my fish please.

I also like going to the spice man in the market to buy fragrant spices - extra long sticks of cinnamon, star anise, coriander and cumin seeds, delicate ruby red fronds of saffron, plump heads of blush pink garlic and large dried bay leaves.  I pack them up in my suitcase and bring them back to England with me.

For dessert and to cool down when the mercury climbs over 35 degrees C, we eat chilled seasonal fruit.  Cold dark purple plums, even darker black cherries, or the local favourite, a sweet juicy watermelon which also makes a great snack for the beach.

One of the meals I like making when I am in Spain is Pollo al Ajillo (Chicken with Garlic).  This is a recipe from the cookbook Moro, written by the chefs who run the London restaurant of the same name. I noticed that the authors know this town well and in one recipe they make mention of the market in Jerez and the little gypsy lady who sells her produce. When we spent some time down here last year we brought the book along with the intention of trying out some Spanish recipes especially those inspired by the produce of the region. I think this one was the only one we managed as it is so tasty and easy to prepare that we made it a lot!

For this recipe you'll need a chicken cut into small pieces, an entire head of garlic, a few bay leaves, white wine and olive oil.

Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan and fry the garlic cloves whole with the skins on until they go slightly brown and a little soft. Remove from oil and add the chicken pieces. Fry until golden brown. Add the garlic back to the pan with some bay leaves and mix for a few minutes, season to taste and then add enough white wine to make the oil emulsify into a cloudy, pale gold sauce when you shake the pan.

I like to serve it with rice to soak up the tasty sauce, but potatoes or bread would probably work just as well.

Some of you have noticed that Mr V is quite a colourful dresser and bang on trend I must say in his yellow tee and orange shorts.  They say opposites attract!  But look - here I am working some yellow on chef duty with some sparkly sequined black Fit-Flops thrown in for good measure (had to get black in there somewhere) - it's probably the only outfit picture you'll ever see of me wearing yellow!

Friday, 15 July 2011

La Playa

Thought I would share a couple of holiday snaps of other beaches we like to visit in Andalusia. This is Fuente de Los Gallos in Conil, a narrow strip of beach flanked by golden sandy cliffs which is popular with families.  On a good day, when the tide is low, the beach is wide, the sea is so tranquil it looks like a sheet of glass, and the water is calm and shallow for miles out into the ocean.  On this day however, the tide was so far in that the beach had almost disappeared and we'd have been struggling to find a spot to sunbathe amongst the many people who had already pitched up with umbrellas, folding chairs and iceboxes.  So it was on to the neighbouring beach of El Palmar.

Conil (pictured below) is one of the los pueblos blancos (the white towns) that dot the coastline.

It is coming to the end of sunflower season here.  During April to August in Andalusia you will drive through fields and fields of giant sunflowers which, in July, are now ripe and starting to fade. Their heads, once held haughtily high are now bowing in submission to the arrival of the height of summer, heavy with ripening seeds which the Andalusians love to snack on.  By August they will be burnt brown.

When the sunflowers first burst into bloom it marks when it just starts to get hot enough to go to the beach.  I love how in the morning when you drive to the beach their heads will be turned one way, and when you pass them in the late evening on the way home, they will have turned completely the other way in their pursuit of the sun.

Pictured above is the view of El Palmar beach as you approach from the road.  Sunflowers, white sand then azure sea and sky as far as the eye can see.  This is not called the Costa de la Luz for nothing.

The lack of outfit posts from my holiday is because other than sweaty dance gear worn to flamenco classes this was about as much as I was wearing!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

My Perfect Holiday

When I go on holiday I like to feel like I'm at home even when I'm away from home.  My perfect holiday is:

...having a cosy place to come back to at the end of the day...

...which has an amazing view during the day...

... which gets even better at night...

 ...having the company of Mr V...

...sharing a meal with loved ones...

...being near the beach...

...sun, sea and sand...

...catching up with girlfriends...

..and warm balmy nights...

What's your perfect holiday?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Not a Cloud in The Sky

This is the obligatory blogger-pretending-to-be-woodland-faerie shot, taken believe or not, in central London.  You'll just have to imagine the garland of dainty daisies adorning my pre-raphaelite locks (not).  This is what I wore on the hottest day in London a couple of weekends ago.  Happy times.  It's been very moody weather ever since, with heavy rain returning with tropical vengeance on far too many washed out summer days.

I am actually writing from sunny Spain where Mr V and I have escaped to for a few days for some respite from the abysmal English summer.  Here there really is not a single cloud to be seen in the sky.  One can walk around in nothing but a slip of silk dress and sandals without jacket, coat, cardigan and just be.  Pure bliss!  But as the photographic evidence above shows, it is possible to do this in the UK on at least one day of the year!

I am certainly a cheap date when the sun comes out.  I'm quite happy to lie in a nice park somewhere sunning myself like a lizard to store up rays for when the weather inevitably changes for the worse.  On this occasion, for a change from our local park, we ventured into Hyde Park to take in the sunshine and heat.  The Wireless music festival was on so the park was extremely crowded.  Queues for icecream! Queues for the ladies! Queues for seats in the cafes! Lucky we were able to picnic contentedly on two apples and a bottle of water.  I did say I was a cheap date.

I managed to wear a slightly problematic floaty summer dress which I have had for a few years now.  I've always loved the flapper-esque cut, the smocking detail, the criss cross spaghetti straps and the lace up back, but more anything I love the print.  I feel like I'm wearing an impressionist painting in shades of sky blue, baby blue, pale pink, grey and lavender.  The way the bands of colours bleed together reminds me of all the colours and passing moods of a summer sky.  A malleable, moving potrait of the sky achieved with nothing more than tie dye on silk, changeable according to the whims of one's imagination as the weather is to the whims of nature.  In it I see the tranquility of a cloudless blue sky, warm breezy afternoons with puffs of cloud floating by, the white heat of the sun tearing pink and lavender strips off the greying clouds at sunset, clouds dusting mountain tops at dawn, clouds gathering over the foam tipped waves of the sea, clouds gathering for the brewing storm that will break through the summer heat with the violent crack of lightning and thunder.  Somehow it's all in there in the print of this dress.  How does the random path of dye on silk manage to work such magic on our retinas?

The way I made this dress work was by removing a rather twee sequinned flower stitched on top of the distressed corsage on the side which had always made the dress a bit too girly for my liking.  More half hearted Christmas decoration than statement sequinned bloom, its sparkle quotient didn't do quite enough to convince me that I was wearing a day dress ironically as an evening dress or vice versa.   Removing that saccharine detail to let the unfinished edges of the fabric flower beneath take centre stage instantly made the dress feel slightly edgier and more wearable for day.

Quite a few people commented on my last post about our local street party that they wished that something like that would happen on their street.  If you haven't seen my reply on the comment thread I wanted to let you all know that if you live anywhere in the UK you can make this happen on your street.  You just apply to the local council by applying online and you too can have your street shut off to traffic and invite all your neighbours to a big street party!  It happens every year in the month of June and they have an email newsletter to let people know when registration opens.  So start planning now!

Postcards from Spain soon!

Tye dye silk print dress: Mango;  Gem embellished sandals: Gap; Bag: Marc by Marc Jacobs; Blue Sarong: Natura

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Street Party

A few weekends ago "The Big Lunch" came to a street near ours.  Friends of ours living around the corner took it upon themselves to contact everyone living on their street to organise participation in this annual event in the UK, which is really a get-to-know-the-neighbours street party.  For a whole day the street was closed off to traffic and people got together to each bring a dish, lend marquees, barbeques, tables, chairs, plates and cutlery for a giant feast.

The organisers prepared decorative bunting to be strung from lamp posts and trees. There was a bouncy castle for kids, a DJ complete with his own tent, decks and a BIG sound system. There was even a carnival stilt walker living on the street who donned her glitzy gear to thrill the sizeable crowd and ever since I've been craving a pair of gold lame flares and gossamer tangerine wings.  I predict the seeds have been sewn for an alternative to the Notting Hill Carnival!

Mr V. and I spent the morning cooking our contributions to the feast - some Asian style chicken dishes which I'm proud to say, went down a treat. Sadly the skies opened at about four in the afternoon and washed the party out.  The weather completely caught me out in my tribute to seventies chic with my flouncy blouse, floor sweeping flared jeans, leather biker and canvas espadrilles.  The problem with floor sweeping flares is their efficiency in wicking up puddles!  I eventually had to go home and change into more waterproof boots and a raincoat.  Thankfully home was a two minute walk away!  After taking as much of standing under umbrellas in the pouring rain trying to make small talk as we could, the day finally ended with us taking refuge in our friends house, warming up with steaming hot mugs of tea and coffee to wash down the remainder of the party cakes.

Blouse and Biker jacket: Kate Moss for Topshop; Love Story Jeans: J Brand; Earrings: Warehouse; Espardrilles: Spain


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