This week I had a ‘shopping day’. I genuinely don’t think this is something I have done, maybe ever. And I appreciate that while scores of people do this activity regularly – some every weekend – many hate the prospect of enduring flashing flesh in changing rooms or simply don’t care about clothes to spend their precious spare time battling with people, stuffy stores and not being able to find the car for hours. I do have a theory that every one does care to a certain degree, especially if they say they don’t, because everyone selects in some way what they put on each day, but that’s a whole different topic in itself – one for another time.

shopping day

As a Costume Designer I spend my working life in shops, shopping for other people, so a trip to a city centre in my spare time doesn’t appeal to me, and this is why I don’t ‘go shopping’. However, I do make impulse purchases – never tried on – as I shop for characters, whatever I am designing. And what has transpired is that I am the proud owner of three double wardrobes of clothes, and a chest of drawers (you know, for the folded stuff). And absolutely no coherent outfit to be seen.

capsule wardrobe

This traditional-style shopping day came about as I am not currently working on a project, and was in search of some new jeans so had an afternoon to spare on this hellish mission; the paradox of the luxury of a day off and the worst task imaginable to undertake during it. I also wanted a cashmere sweater and some boots for an upcoming trip to New York, practical ones with a sole suitable for the snow and ice, as my last winter trip to NYC was a permanent ice rink of embarrassment in several highly impractical footwear choices, And these are a sensible footwear choice, unlike the Gucci loafers which I really would rather purchase.

gucci loafers

I did find some great fitting jeans in APC – much to my delight as it was the first place I tried – although their “no washing for six months” policy is beyond my capability of rational thought. Essentially I spend my life dealing with other people’s dirty clothes after I have shopped for them so I am now literally obsessed with washing. Also, jeans get ‘knees’, and six months of ‘knees’ are some crazy jeans. Maybe APC people don’t sit down or walk anywhere for six months? It was after the jeans that I realised my list for the day basically involved buying An Outfit. I finally needed to heed all of the well-intentioned magazine advice and buy An Outfit. Revelation One, aged 35.

capsule wardrobe for women

Proposing that this should consist of neutral pieces that stood the at least vague possibility of working with at least a few of the other random purchases to create A Wardrobe quickly became Revelation Two. I sensibly changed into the newly purchased jeans as this would be the key to An Outfit working. Alternatively, you could take the piece which you want to get an outfit to go with with you, thus no one thinks you are crazy –  in fact, they are jealous of your cleverness and foresight.

crazy fashion

I have always been a firm believer in unpatterned, simple clothes in classic colours, and there is absolutely no reason ever to buy a t-shirt in a colour with any kind of print on it. These are life rules that you would think would translate into ‘Woman Capable of Dressing In Chic Classy Way’, but it’s just not that simple. I have some great tees and vests already at home, so they weren’t a requirement at least.


When it comes to tees, I recommend Petit Bateau if you like a tight fit as the longer line tucks-in well, even into low rise jeans to avoid any plumber’s bottom issues. H&M men’s department also has lovely soft crew necks (unlike the thick jersey usually used in women’s tees) so they tuck well into waistbands also as they are cut longer for guys but not tight at the bottom. I often find women’s tees so tight at the hem they become incredibly uncomfortable sitting on the part you don’t want it to and it’s impossible for them to create an insouciant pull so it sits over your waistband, you know, should you so wish to do so.

uniqlo cashmere sweaters

I was after a black cashmere crew neck sweater and I found one of these straight away in Uniqlo of course. And there were lots of great neutrals, ecru, grey marl, navy and black – it came in bright colours too but as I am An Outfit buying I also didn’t want to be too trend led. At £70 that’s some very reasonable cashmere, which washes well if care is taken. The cut is not cropped, but not so long that it does the dreaded muffin top hug, with a small vent on each side giving it extra movement where we have hips so it really is an impressive sweater, especially for the price.

chanel style tweed jackets

Isabel Marant Etoile (which I historically prefer to the main collection anyway) has some great pieces for long term staple outfit dressing. I found an unlined double breasted tight-fitting jacket with great shoulders and a neat classic line for £260, a jacket perfect for travelling as it can be worn with jeans for perfect smart casual. It works as a light jacket for spring through autumn and a great layer for winter, mostly as the cashmere sweater looks perfect underneath. And this jacket works really well dressed up for the evening too, so it feels like a smart, sensible purchase.

timberland slim boots women

The boots took much longer to find, but I found some really great slim black Timberlands with a solid rubber sole, waterproof and sturdy. They are not as heavy as many practical boots, or traditional Timberlands for that matter, and being a slim style they are not too bulky for my 5’2 frame either. They also sit in a great place up the leg to work a turn up on any trouser, and should give me a bit of London rock whatever the weather in NYC. My Mama just bought a pair for a trip to Krakow too, so shed that For Rappers Only impression and take a look.

travelling light

Once I returned home, I realised the enormous success of this trip as I packed, I do believe I managed to create one of those staple wardrobes of which publications so often speak, the ubiquitous An Outfit. I included in my suitcase in addition to my new haul a pair of Stan Smiths, an oversized slouchy sweater, a cashmere vest, some knitted wide leg black pants and a pair of heels along with an old oversized tailored overcoat styled up with a brooch and everything goes with everything. I am a changed woman.

capsule closet

The challenge now is when I get back, parting with all the pieces I like but have nothing to wear them with, but for the next week I shall revel in the wonders of An Outfit, in fact even, The Staple Wardrobe. Fashion editors, it’s has taken you 35 years, but finally you have got through and I have listened, and I profess you are all correct; it really does take the stress out of dressing. Hopefully when I crack this officially full time {=(i.e. in ‘real life’ when I get home) I could even treat myself to a very on-trend whatever-the-colour-next-season-is sweater… You never know!