Monday, 29 July 2013


This weekend one of my oldest and dearest friends, the Other V, got married and I had the honour of being her bridesmaid. So last weekend I organised her a little hen do.  People get married at all ages these days but the concept of a hen party often doesn't extend past the twenty something age bracket. When you've rolled on well past this age, the whole idea of running around town with girlfriends dressed in ludicrous costumes with a driver's learner plate (or worse) taped to your dress starts to seem very undignified.

To be honest I was never into all that cringe and embarrassment factor heaped on a bride-to-be before her big day anyway and I knew she wasn't either. So instead of all that I organised her something just girly enough but ladylike at the same time - a Sunday afternoon tea at the British Museum with a few of her closest girlfriends.

I wore this Vivienne Westwood outfit to mark the occasion.  I bought it as a present to myself on my last birthday as a mark of surviving forty and properly entering my forties.  I was always a girlish dresser right up until my mid thirties, but lately that has started to look wrong.  I haven't got the face to pull it off anymore.  I have the face of a woman and I can see something of the face of a weather worn old gypsy awaiting me in the future.  I don't want to give up the things I have always loved in clothes necessarily but I do need to tweak the way I wear them to suit me better as I am now.

So now I figure that now I'm well and truly established in womanhood I may as well revel in the chance to wear the kind of clothes that women wear well and dress like a lady.  Not all the time.  That would be dull.  Variety is the spice of life and all that.  But when the occasion calls for it I'm going to allow myself to revel in the best that ladylike dressing can be.  And there is always a way in which to give a sartorial nod to the girl that grew into the lady.  The girl-me adored florals, lived in delicate and ditsy prints but shied away from the bold. The lady loves a floral too but her more ample curves can pull off a larger print in a way the girlish slip of her former self could not have.

Taking a page out of the girly rule book of dressing doesn't do a lady harm either.  I normally tend to be the worst sort of bag lady, dragging one or two other unattractive bags on top of a handbag in an effort to carry everything I need for the day around with me.  This time I took a step back to rethink this cumbersome strategy.  

Instead of opting for the bag lady look I went for the more romantic option my younger self would have approved of.  I took a girly bright pink basket that normally holds my magazines and used it as a carry bag in which to stash my jacket, scarf, water bottle, magazine for the tube ride and the presents for the bride-to-be.  Much better!  Still practical but so much nicer to look at than the bag lady.

The other element of accessorising I've taken from my youth is a love of pretty brooches.  The brooch is a very ladylike accessory.  I've only very recently returned to making the effort to wear brooches with outfits after a hiatus in wearing any sort of jewellery.  I'd forgotten how just spending a couple of moments longer when dressing to choose and pin one somewhere can add that finishing touch to an outfit in a very understated but elegant way.  This gilt pearl one was a cheap vintage find on Ebay and every time I wear it another pearl falls off.  But it was just right to keep the shawl collar on this top from slipping off my shoulders. 

In many ways the girl I once was made more effort to get dressed up like a lady than the woman now, so there are still lessons to be learnt in looking back to one's own youth to draw inspiration, even if it is from the approach to getting dressed rather than the type of clothes, which may or may not suit you anymore.  In fact I recall much of that dressing up was role playing at being a lady, but at the same time you would feel, despite being all dressed up, that you hadn't quite got there yet.  Yes, I think that in my girlish days, I probably had "lady envy" of sorts.  So here's to enjoying finally actually being a lady!

 Linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.  Also participating in the series "How I Wear My..." hosted by Everything Just So and The Rich Life on a Budget.  The theme this week is casual party outfits. Head over there to see what everyone is wearing.

Amaryliss rose print top and Rose Liberty print skirt: Vivienne Westwood Anglomania; White espardrilles: bought in Spain; Pearl brooch: Vintage; Pearl earrings: present from Mum; Pink straw basket: Market find in France; White Broderie Anglaise jacket in basket: Kate Moss for Topshop; Floral scarf in basket: 21% Lino

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Silver Dusk

It's hot. Damn hot. I'd given up all hope of ever saying that in London over the last seven or so years where every summer has been a wash out. But after a disappointing spring London is finally in the throes of a pretty decent summer! If you are of an English constitution you might even be calling this a "heat wave" (stifles snide sniggering...).

There has been three weeks of wonderful long hot days. Mr V and I have been taking strolls in our favourite park at dusk to admire the wildflowers and the grass that has now grown waist high. I've been taking every opportunity to pull out the unworn summer dresses and heat like this calls for spaghetti straps. I think the last time I wore spaghetti straps in this country was two years ago!

This dress has been one of those "do I keep it or do I get rid of it?" dresses for a while. I've had it for years but it almost never sees the light of day because of the weather here.  I was glad to rediscover it on this occasion. The feather light jersey in a subtle silvery grey was perfect for a hot humid evening. The skirt is actually a puffball design, that tricky type of skirt that goes in and out of fashion and which I first remember coming into fashion as a young teenybopper in the eighties starting to go to discos.  I remember coveting one but never getting to own one, and they went out of fashion as these things do and I stopped pining for one.

Then they kind of came back a few years ago and I found a more grown up version to satisfy my inner disappointed teenager.  A puffball skirt incorporated into another teenage staple from the eighties I remember well - the dropped waist dress.  As the jersey is so soft it lends more of a Grecian drape to the dress and a pretty, silver grey lace band around the dropped waistline adds a dressier accent to the casual feel of the jersey fabric.

Mr V has embraced brights this summer.  He has been regularly sporting bright neon shorts he brought back with him from Spain. Makes him rather easy to spot amid the grass.

We love our walks here because the sky at sunset is rather beautiful and you get a rather Turner-esque view of the City skyline from the top of the hill.

We're also loving the range of colours of the grasses at sunrise, all the way from pale pink through to silver grey.

And someone came up with the genius idea of planting a field of wildflowers in a dead space near our local Lido (that's a public swimming pool for anyone outside of the UK). So glad they did.

Linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.

Dress: Mango; Shoes: Fit Flops; Bag: Michael by Michael Kors
Mr V - Tee: Levis; Shorts: Pull and Bear

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Sisters in Scarlet

These days I feel like I just come here to apologise for my radio silence.  Sincere apologies!  I have been offline for what seems like ages.  If I am away from the blogosphere for any extended period of time it is generally because my life gets taken over by flamenco and this has been one of them.

I have been preparing my students for two shows and it has been weeks of hours upon hours of gruelling rehearsals in the evenings and often late into the night.  There has been frantic organising of timetables, of costumes, and pulling every spare bit of energy I have in my bones to coach some fledgling flamenco dancers in this rich and complex dance form and perfect their routine to performance standard.

As a dance form flamenco demands as much blood, sweat and tears as any other and these photos are of a group of ladies who have taken on the challenge of learning to dance with the bata de cola, this magnificent, long trailing skirt.  The spectacular cascade of frills is breathtaking to behold in full flight, but its beauty belies an instrument of torture!

It requires quite a large degree of physical strength to dance with the bata.  These skirts can weigh up to five kilos and the dancer has to lift them in a ballet-like arabesque using the ballet technique of plié in order to do so.  The weight is provided not just by the frills on top of the skirt, but also by layers and layers of frills which are stitched underneath the skirt and made out of a stiff, paper-like fabric (a bit like very stiff interfacing).  Some also have a metal wire or stiff cord stitched into the hem of the skirt to give it shape and weight.

The dancer needs to develop enough skill to avoid treading on the frills which can trip her up, or to flip it over so that the underlying paper is visible - a cardinal sin! Then she needs to learn to make it fly through the air, open on landing, control it to make it stop where she needs it to and be able to pick it up - all in time and all while making it look like it is the easiest and most graceful thing in the world!

In many respects, the bata de cola is to flamenco what the symbolic red shoes are to ballet, an object of desire and obsession, because frankly, if you weren't obsessive about flamenco you would never persist with such masochism.  A flamenco dancer who had studied bata for years swore to me that the sensation was like that of dancing with another person.  One of my students refers to her bata as the beast she is always trying to tame.  Another has even branded herself with a beautiful half body tattoo of a flamenco dancer in a scarlet bata de cola.

These are the photos from the rehearsal and performance a couple of weeks ago.  It took place in the splendour of a listed ballroom in London that looks like something straight out of a film set.  Apparently it is London's last remaining ballroom from the fifties, and despite a grotty exterior, inside it is extravagantly decorated in red velvet, flock wallpaper, and lit with large crystal chandeliers, gilt candelabras and sconces, glitter balls and large red Chinese lanterns. It is in fact often used as a film set.  It was used in Tina Turner's Private Dancer video - fitting I think!  Some years ago I was also an extra on a film set here filming an initial storyboard for a San Miguel advertisement featuring flamenco dancers.

The making of this dance has been quite a journey and a really lovely camaraderie has developed amongst the class - a sisterhood of sorts has formed, borne out of a fascination with frills, strengthened after hours of frustration have turned to fruition, and united in a passion for and love of flamenco.  It has been very exciting for me to finally realise the vision of a choreography for a larger group and have it performed and received well by an audience.  I was thrilled at how it turned out and very proud of how the girls danced on the day.


I think the photos speak for themselves as to how much work they put into preparing for this.  More importantly, they put a lot of heart and soul on top of their technique into their performance.  I couldn't have asked for a nicer or more dedicated group of women to teach and I can honestly say that through teaching them, I've also learnt a lot from them in return about teaching and dance and what it means to be flamenco.  So thank you girls.

Our matching scarlet batas were a happy accident.  There were three black batas and five red and I arranged them in a checker board fashion on stage.  Most of the batas had been ordered from and made in Spain where that true saturated tone of red is extremely popular.

I was also fortunate enough that one of my students works as a bridal courturier by day and she is starting a bespoke flamenco costume design business on the side.  She sourced material in matching red lace and made us all matching crossover tops to tie us all together visually.  It worked a treat!

The photos were, as always, taken by the talented Mr V - who is becoming quite the flamenco dance photographer!  Since this performance we have been preparing for another - which is today at the (gulp!) Royal Festival Hall!  Wish us luck!  I expect we will have some photos to share with you of that too in the near future.

I got this red bata de cola dress while I was out in Spain a couple of months ago.  I bought it specifically because most of my students had red batas, but I had a cream one.  I figured if I was going to dance with them in a group I had better match some of them!  There is quite an interesting story about this red bata de cola I ended up buying, but that will have to be for another post...

Will be linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style to say an overdue hello!


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